Movie sequels are almost always worse than the original films. Notable exceptions, such as this summer’s Top Gun: Maverick, merely prove the rule. For every Empire Strikes Back, there’s a Highlander 2: The Quickening, Halloween Kills, and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol.
If efforts to enact a voter-identification requirement in North Carolina were a motion-picture franchise, the current box-office bomb would be titled something like Carolina ID 5: Voters Against Democracy. Its baldly implausible plot is that self-styled defenders of democracy have gone to court to overturn a voter-ID requirement added to the state constitution by a voter referendum. “Let the will of the majority prevail,” warns one of the supposed protagonists, “and that will destroy democracy!”
As I have argued many times, an overwhelming preponderance of evidence shows little-to-no effect of ID requirements on voter turnout. In other words, progressives are mistaken when they claim such rules constitute voter suppression. By the same token, conservatives are mistaken when they claim voter fraud would be rampant without ID requirements. (If true, imposing such a requirement should significantly reduce the number of ballots cast. But that’s never happened.)
In reality, the types of misbehavior to which voter IDs pose a barrier or deterrent — impersonation fraud, most obviously, but also residency fraud — are rare but hardly nonexistent. Although nearly all electoral outcomes involve margins far too large to be determined by fraud, a handful of illegal votes could be decisive in some local races or extreme circumstances. As long as the requirements are clearly stated and citizens without an ID receive state assistance to get one, the policy is reasonable. Its modest benefits, in the form of public confidence in elections and greater convenience for those previously lacking IDs, easily surpass its modest costs.
Such arguments should have settled the matter years ago. In 2013, the General Assembly enacted an election-law bill that included voter ID among its provisions. Republican Pat McCrory, then governor, signed it into law.
Progressive plaintiffs sued in federal court. They lost at the trial court. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder concluded that however debatable the bill’s merits might be, there was no evidence of discriminatory intent or other violations of federal laws or constitutional provisions.
The plaintiffs appealed. In 2016, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Court of Appeals tossed aside Schroeder’s findings of fact — itself a rare and questionable act — and famously proclaimed that the bill’s provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
I bet you’ve heard that phrase many times since. But it never had any basis in fact. And it should never have been the last word.
McCrory, House Speaker Tim Moore, and Senate leader Phil Berger assumed that the state would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. They had every reason to expect — and subsequent decisions in other cases have buttressed their expectation — that the Supreme Court would have overturned the Fourth Circuit and allowed North Carolina’s voter-ID rule to take effect.
Roy Cooper defeated McCrory to become governor. He and his Democratic replacement as attorney general, Josh Stein, surely agreed with the Republicans that the state would likely prevail on appeal. So they sabotaged North Carolina’s case. They refused to appeal. Moore and Berger tried to do it themselves, using their own counsel, but the justices were apparently unsure who was representing whom and declined to accept it.
Cooper and Stein have never received the scorn they deserve for their misbehavior. Nevertheless, I also hold the U.S. Supreme Court responsible for failing to sort the matter out properly back in 2017. Fortunately, they’ve now done so in yet another installment in the franchise — perhaps Carolina ID 6: Disorder in the Court — by issuing this month an 8-1 decision affirming Moore and Berger’s right to hire legal representation on the state’s behalf in yet another voter ID case.
The justices should have accepted that argument back in 2017. It would have saved us from some truly dreadful sequels.