Watching the recent federal trial over election law changes in North Carolina, J. Christian Adams concluded. “The Obama administration and its partisan, big-money, racial-interest-group allies will stop at nothing to win elections.” Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, co-authored that comment in a column for National Review Online. Adams discussed his concerns about the ongoing challenges to North Carolina voting laws during a conversation with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)
Kokai: So this North Carolina case over election law changes, you really saw some bad signs out of the Obama administration. What bothered you about what was happening in this case?
Adams: Well, for one, they’re perverting the Voting Rights Act, which was a law designed to break down barriers to the ballot box — these intentional barriers — and to make the voting process open to everybody. Well, what this administration has done is turned it into a political weapon where they see if the Democratic Party suffers from a particular election law, that they then cloak it in the mantle of racial discrimination, use this very important civil rights law, and they attempt to extract political advantage using the federal courts.
They use concocted evidence, ridiculous evidence. You know, black turnout actually increased in the 2014 election under these “draconian” laws they’re challenging, so it’s an exercise of federal power using millions of taxpayer dollars to basically obtain a political end.
Kokai: In one sense, the way that your piece at National Review Online described it was the Obama administration would turn the Voting Rights Act into a one-way ratchet to help Democrats. How so?
Adams: Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening, is they’re basically … any law, any change in the election practice that might have an impact on blacks in a statistically infinitesimal greater amount than it does on whites is somehow a violation of federal civil rights laws, and the federal government has to clamp down on North Carolina.
What they’re really doing when they adopt that radical theory — because that’s not the law right now — when they adopt that radical theory, if you have racial polarization rates among black voters like you do in North Carolina — 90 percent, 95 percent — what you’re essentially doing is creating a one-way ratchet for the Democratic Party using civil rights laws, using laws that were meant to level the playing field, are actually now being used to give a partisan advantage to one ideological, partisan wing of the spectrum.
Kokai: Now let’s look at the actual changes that are under debate here. We’re talking about things like — the big item was voter ID, but also early voting and some other key measures. Are the things that North Carolina put in law, are they out of the mainstream? Are these things that we’re not seeing anywhere else in the country that would hinder people from voting?
Adams: A lot of states don’t even have early voting. For example, New York. New York doesn’t have early voting. A lot of states don’t have it. They have things —the radical concept in North Carolina that you have to vote in the precinct where you live — oh, there’s a shocker.
As a matter of fact, I don’t know many states —never knew about the idea that you just show up wherever you want. So these are some common-sense laws to prevent chaos on Election Day, such as registering to vote. How about that radical idea that we all grew up with? That’s the sort of out-of-the-mainstream theories being advanced by the Justice Department, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, that somehow these policies that we’re all familiar with and we all can figure out — because it ain’t tough — these policies are somehow racially discriminatory.
Kokai: In looking at these changes, another big one that did not come up in this part of the trial, but is a big piece of the law — voter ID. Do the Democrats and their allies have anything on their side in saying that voter ID is somehow discriminatory and would prevent people from heading to the polls because they’re in a minority group?
Adams: Well, looking at the law around the country, there have been a lot of cases that have been fought that I follow: Texas, South Carolina, just to name a few. The law that North Carolina has passed makes it almost impossible not to get a voter ID. In other words, you have to try really hard to mess this up. And so it’s free, it’s easy to obtain. … If you were born to a midwife, let’s say in 1925, one of the favorite examples that the opponents will cite, you know what? Then you can go to the polls and vote and execute an affidavit to say that you had a hardship.
So there is really nobody, nobody being blocked from the polls. Contrast that to what was going on in 1960. I mean, think about that. Think about the morally bankrupt, racially discriminatory policies throughout much of the country that literally did stop people from voting. To try to claim that moral mantle from 70 years ago and to say that you can’t get a free, easy-to-use voter ID is just — frankly, it’s disgraceful.
Kokai: Now one of the things that we have heard from the proponents of many of these changes is that, “Hey, we really are just trying to tighten up the rules so that we have less of a chance of voter fraud.” And then you hear from the critics, “But there is no voter fraud. There is no evidence of voter fraud.” How do these changes fit in with this whole effort of trying to improve the integrity of the elections?
Adams: First of all, the Supreme Court of the United States said you don’t actually have to have voter fraud to pass regulations about elections. You can prevent it. You can pass a law that is to prevent it from happening.
But even given that, even given that, there is, in fact, voter fraud. North Carolina has staggering numbers of people who are registered to vote in multiple places.
Look at the city of Pembroke. There is a great example that drove this legislation. The city of Pembroke, using same-day registration — which means you just show up to vote, you haven’t registered to vote, you just show up at the polls and say, “I’m here to vote,” and you announce yourself — the city of Pembroke was so overwhelmed by bogus ballots in a local election, they had to do it over again because of same-day registration.
So this is not some theoretical harm. The legislature of North Carolina, the legislators won an election, the people of North Carolina voted them in, and they ran on these issues, I might add, and they made the changes that were popular and are going to survive a federal court challenge.
Kokai: Now one of the other things that has not come up as often in discussion of this particular case is the fact that many of these changes were very popular. I mean voter ID, cutting across the ideological spectrum, has a lot of support, doesn’t it?
Adams: Yeah. That’s what’s so strange about all the big money interests getting behind these attacks on voter ID — the big law firms, the big racial interest groups. It’s a losing issue for them. It’s a losing issue because the people support it. Even black voters overwhelmingly support voter ID. Democrats, according to polls, support voter ID.
It’s not just a certain small segment. It’s a nationally supported policy, and that’s why the people challenging these statutes are wasting donor money, wasting their time, wasting the resources of the court, because these are common-sense election rules.
Kokai: And in terms of turnout, there has been some suggestion that perhaps with these new rules in place, it’ll actually get a few more people to come out to the polls because they’ll see, “Hey, these elections have some integrity.”
Adams: Yeah, … the fear of a corrupted election, that your vote is going to be canceled out by somebody breaking the law, is real. People on the margins don’t want to participate in something that their vote doesn’t make any difference because someone is rigging the system somewhere else. And so that’s probably why you had turnout increase after these laws became effective. There was no decrease in black turnout. There was no decrease in white turnout. It went up in 2014.