Law & the Courts

Ballot Integrity Is Not Racist

Early voting in Charlotte, N.C., October 26, 2016. (Reuters photo: Chris Keane)
The state is not barring citizens from voting.

In North Carolina, a slight drop in African-American turnout during this year’s early-voting period occasioned breathless reporting from mainstream outlets and invocations of “Jim Crow” from Democratic activists. Such outrages have become an election-year ritual, but, as usual, politically expedient fiction has outpaced fact.

By way of background: In 2013, North Carolina passed a law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID, ending same-day registration, and shortening the length of early voting from 17 to ten days — all of which was met by liberal hysterics. Hillary Clinton called it an “assault on voting rights.” In August, the Fourth Circuit struck down the law, on the basis that Republicans had passed the law “with discriminatory intent” — a justification for which there is no evidence whatsoever. As a result, North Carolina’s 100 counties were required to file new election rules with the state’s election board, just three months before Election Day.

Contrary to claims by everyone from the New York Times to ThinkProgress, early-voting opportunities were not subsequently “slashed.” In fact, early voting was dramatically expanded. Statewide, early-voting sites expanded by 21 percent, and there was a 16 percent increase in the number of hours available for voting early. Democrats have homed in on places such as Guilford County, home to a large population of black voters, noting that only one polling site was open during the first week of early voting there, compared with 16 in 2012 — but they neglect the fact that the hours and polling sites were increased after the first week to compensate. So, in places such as Guilford County and Mecklenburg County, there was actually more time to vote this year than in 2012. (Also, it happens that Guilford County’s approved election rules were proposed by the local board’s lone Democrat.)

Although numbers are not yet final, it appears that turnout among blacks was down about 8 percent this year, compared with 2012. Given that this was despite an increase in the time made available to vote, a fair-minded observer might look for other possibilities besides racism. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the first African-American president is not on the ticket this year, and that in his stead is a historically unpopular Democratic nominee. Notably, turnout among 20-something Democrats was down fully one-third. Racist Republicans cannot account for that.

Of course, Democrats’ North Carolina scaremongering is simply the latest sortie in a full-fledged war on any measures to ensure electoral probity. Early voting began in 1988, and a dozen states (including notoriously conservative Connecticut) do not allow it, but Democrats have transformed that and other measures into God-given rights, treating any challenge to them as an assault on the achievements of the civil-rights movement. With respect for the electoral challenges African Americans have faced, though, and recognizing that election rules were too often exploited — by both parties — to advance a particular result rather than ensure a fair election, there is an important distinction between racism and partisanship as motivations for laws.

There is also longstanding precedent for laws similar to North Carolina’s. And where voter-ID laws have gone into effect, mass disenfranchisement has not occurred — including in North Carolina, where black turnout increased from 2010 to 2014, even as the 2013 law went into effect. Additionally, there is ample evidence that fraud plays but a small, but often significant, role in our elections, especially at the local and state levels.

There is no evidence for claims of minority disenfranchisement.

Protecting the integrity of the ballot box need not be a massive or intrusive undertaking. In most stages, government-issued identification is required to operate a vehicle, or to purchase Tylenol. If there are, as Democrats continue to insist, large numbers of people without identification, they are locked out of much of modern American life, and local and state governments should be more aggressive in getting identification to them. However, if that is not the case, then it does not seem like an extraordinary burden to ask of voters weighing in on the direction of the country to supply as much identification as is required of them to buy a case of Coors.

In an election season tinged by racial disquiet, it is little surprise that Democrats are sounding the alarm about minority disenfranchisement. But there is no evidence for their claims; in fact, a record 3 million North Carolinians cast their ballots during the state’s early-voting period. Whoever wins in North Carolina on Tuesday, it will not be because any voter was barred from the polls.


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