Among the many chaotic elements of the 2020 election — which includes a candidate who lost but refuses to concede and threats of violence against election officials for doing their jobs — it’s disappointing to see the issue of voter ID raise its head in North Carolina once again.
Last week, a federal appeals court reversed an earlier federal court decision to temporarily block voter ID in North Carolina, which Republican legislators passed and tried to amend into the state constitution in 2018.
"Now that a federal appeals court has approved North Carolina's voter ID law and constitutional amendment, they must be implemented for the next election cycle in our state," N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a primary sponsor of the voter ID law, said in a statement on his website.
It’s not a done deal yet — there’s still some legal wrangling to be resolved — but the ruling draws North Carolina closer to joining the states that require photo IDs to vote.
The previous federal ruling cited historic Republican efforts to make it harder for Black people to vote, such as in a 2013 voter ID law.
But the three-judge panel last week said that though the earlier law was an attempt to disenfranchise minorities, this one wasn’t.
"The outcome hinges on the answer to a simple question: How much does the past matter?" the judges said in their ruling. "A legislature's past acts do not condemn the acts of a later legislature, which we must presume acts in good faith."
Never mind that both laws were drawn from the same well by the same people.
The judges dismissed the wider context of Republican legislators’ many attempts to suppress voting through voter ID laws, extreme gerrymandering, limiting voting hours and reducing polling sites. When more voters vote, more Democrats win — a truth that Republicans come closer to admitting out loud, rather than using the smoke screen of “voter fraud” every year.
At the same time, Republican legislators have ingrained the specter of “voter fraud” as a statewide myth, despite a lack of evidence to support it. They’ve gone out of their way to weaken the public’s trust in election outcomes — then complained that the public’s trust in election outcomes has been weakened.
There is a popular but shallow argument to require picture IDs for voting: Other areas of American life require photo ID — renting a car, booking a hotel room, buying groceries — or so President Trump once claimed.
But those are all private financial transactions, not constitutionally guaranteed rights. There’s still a significant segment of the population that doesn’t have the resources to provide a picture ID at the ballot. A more accurate comparison would be to poll taxes.
And though voter fraud has been committed in North Carolina — “ballot fraud” is a more accurate term — none has been proved that would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement.
The N.C. NAACP is reviewing the decision and may appeal. "The N.C. NAACP will not rest until we have vindicated fully the rights of African Americans, the Latinx community, and the most vulnerable in this state to access the sacred right to vote," said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the state NAACP.
We respect the court’s authority, but must respectfully disagree with its latest decision.
Voter ID in North Carolina and elsewhere continues to be a solution in search of a problem.
This ruling should be overturned on appeal.