WASHINGTON — In a series of rulings over the last two weeks, appellate courts across the country have been filling in the hole blown out of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 three years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court — moves that could help reshape November’s elections.
A federal judge in North Dakota yesterday blocked that state’s voter identification law — the latest in a series of rulings striking down voting restrictions in states including North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Kansas — based on claims of racial discrimination.
The laws, which required voters to show photo IDs, cut early voting dates and barred election-day voter registration, were swiftly passed by largely Republican legislatures after the Supreme Court threw out a decades-old formula for Justice Department pre-clearance requirements in districts with a history of minority voter suppression.
That decision prevented the Justice Department from reviewing state laws that restrict voter access before they are enacted until Congress passes a new law — unlikely under Washington’s current gridlock. So states began implementing tough voting restrictions, claiming a need to quell voter fraud.
Civil liberties groups and the Obama administration claimed the real intent was to suppress Democratic-leaning minority and poor voters.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland wrote that North Dakota’s “ill-advised” repeal of a “fail-safe” provision in that state’s voter ID law — which let a voter sign an affidavit in lieu of ID — disproportionately burdened Native American voters.
Federal appellate courts came to the same conclusion in the other states, including a ruling Friday that North Carolina officials sought specific restrictions to target black voters “with almost surgical precision.” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory accused the Democratic-appointed judges in that case of “maligning our state.”
“Photo IDs are required to purchase Sudafed, cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal courtroom,” McCrory said, indicating a Supreme Court challenge could follow — but a high court ruling won’t come before November.
A new report released yesterday by the voting advocacy group Project Vote shows recent representational gains in voting representation by specific groups in recent election cycles, including blacks, who in 2014 represented roughly 12 percent of voters — nearly equal to the percentage of blacks that make up the country’s adult population.