Swift impact of voting decision

Jun. 26, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

To see the impact of Tuesday’s U. S. Supreme Court decision on a key part of the Voting Rights Act, you had to wait no more than an hour or so and look no further than downtown Raleigh.

Backers of a bill in the General Assembly to require voters to present state-issued photo identification at the polls – and of other measures that will reverse recent efforts to make voting easier and increase participation – saw a green light for swift action in the court’s 5-4 decision.

Since Congress passed the landmark Voting Rights Act in 1965, election-law changes such as those in North Carolina and other southeastern states have been subject to “pre-clearance” by the U. S. Department of Justice.

Tuesday’s decision swept aside that requirement. 

The voter ID bill has been parked in the Senate Judiciary Committee as backers waited for the court ruling to signal how they could best proceed.  Now, the bill will head to the full Senate for expected passage next week, committee chair Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Henderson Republican, told the Associated Press shortly after the justices handed down their decision.

The ruling “should speed things along greatly,” Apodaca told The News and Observer of Raleigh.

Other legislation likely to pass would shorten the early-voting period and prohibit opening polls on Sundays. Critics of the proposals believe – as do we – that the state’s expansive early-voting policies have spurred greater participation in the electoral process.  And there’s no doubt the Republican majority in the General Assembly is wary of increased participation in a city like Durham, with it’s heavy tilt toward more liberal candidates in recent years.

Voter ID and other changes to voting law were likely to pass this General Assembly regardless of the court’s decision on Tuesday.  But U. S. Rep G.K. Butterfield – whose district includes parts of Durham County – was probably prescient when he said Tuesday that “undoubtedly, there will we more efforts to suppress minority voting strength.”

With what he called “this important tool” rejected, Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said “the legislature must take even more care to resist new laws that make it harder for people to vote.” That, though, is unlikely.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the minority, noted that the Voting Rights Act was “no ordinary legislation. It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.”

In writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that “our country has changed.”

Thankfully, he is right. But so is Ginsburg, and we fear the evidence is that it has not yet changed enough to avoid erosion of the “purpose and promise” she cited.