The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 27, 2013

Southern states gird for new fight on laws

MICHAEL BIESECKER and PAUL J. WEBER Associated Press
The Clinton Herald

---- — AUSTIN, Texas — Stricter voter identification laws, redrawn political maps fortifying Republican majorities, reducing early voting: States with GOP strongholds intensified these efforts under President Barack Obama and proclaimed victory at the Supreme Court.

Now the Obama administration is signaling plans to drag some of these mostly Southern states with histories of minority discrimination into rematches after the high court knocked down a major piece of the Voting Rights Act.

First up is Texas, which rushed to enact a tough voter ID law and new redistricting maps after the justices’ 5-4 ruling last month. North Carolina is considered to be another possible target of the administration, and officials in Alabama are also digging their heels in for another possible round with the Justice Department.

Other states also are watching closely.

“You can imagine a very aggressive Justice Department trying to get the bar as low as possible and demanding that states be bailed in” back under former voting rights protections, said Rebecca Green, co-director of the election law program at the College of William & Mary.

Predictions that North Carolina is on deck grew late Thursday after its Legislature sent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sweeping voting law changes, including the end of a popular program that registers high school students to vote in advance of their 18th birthday.

There’s also a strict voter ID measure, slashing early voting by a week and the elimination of same-day registration. State elections statistics show black voters use early voting in heavy numbers and that more than 300,000 of the state’s residents don’t have a driver’s license, many of them poor and elderly.

North Carolina conservatives call the moves voter integrity safeguards and were confident they will stand.

“I think what we’ve seen over the past several years is the Obama administration politicize the voting rights section in ways we’ve never seen before,” said North Carolina state Sen. Phil Berger, the top Republican in the chamber. “I do not think they are a non-partisan or neutral arbiter.”

North Carolina gave final approval to the measures only hours after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced he will ask a federal court to tether Texas back to provisions that require permission to change voting laws.

Known as preclearance, the process had been mandatory in all or parts of 15 mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination, until the Supreme Court decision last month wiped out the preapproval.

Holder called the decision flawed and said Thursday he will use “every tool at our disposal” in mounting a new fight over voter protection.

He did not name other states in the sights of the Justice Department but vowed that Texas “will not be our last.”

Election law experts say Texas presents the easiest — but by no means assured — path for the administration because a Washington federal court last year found the state to have engaged in intentional discrimination. One example cited by judges was black congressional members in Texas having economic drivers such as sporting arenas freshly carved out of their districts, while “no such surgery” was performed on those belonging to white incumbents.

That finding makes it easier to apply Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, a tactic rarely employed because the same effect was formerly achieved through the more muscular section of the law that is now eliminated.