Perhaps to tamp down expectations of a victory in November, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Monday that America’s election system is “ rigged.”
Trump is right that there is interference in people’s right to vote but not for the reasons he implied. As several recent court decisions make clear, Republicans across the country have used a variety of tricks — voter ID laws, redistricting and closing polling places — to suppress minority votes after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 5-4 ruling in 2013 freed southern states from a requirement that federal officials approve voting law changes.
In recent days, several federal and state courts ruled that these measures were unconstitutional because they were racially motivated.
In the most important ruling, a federal appeals court panel last week unanimously struck down numerous changes that North Carolina lawmakers made to voting laws in 2013. The restrictions, including fewer days of early voting and inconsistent voter ID requirements, were clearly targeting African-American voters, the court said.
“The new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision … and, in fact impose cures for problems that did not exist,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the panel. “Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation,” which was to take away minority voters’ right to vote.
“This bears the mark of intentional discrimination,” the opinion said.
The court noted that the day after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, a Republican legislative leader announced a package of election law changes. “Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans,” the court said in its opinion.
In Wisconsin, two judges struck down portions of that state’s new voter identification law in two separate cases. “The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote in a July 29 ruling. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.” He said a portion of the law was written specifically “to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”
Earlier in July, a federal appeals court invalidated a strict voter ID law in Texas. The court, viewed as conservative, said the law was not intended to be discriminatory but still had that effect.
State court judges also curtailed, temporarily, provisions of voter identification laws in Kansas and North Dakota.
Maine has not been immune from similar efforts. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated same-day voter registration. Voters promptly repealed the law that November. The state Legislature consistently has turned back near perennial attempts to enact voter ID requirements.
Unfortunately, recent court rulings don’t mean that efforts to keep minorities away from the ballot box will end. Sheriff’s deputies in Sparta, Georgia, have stopped black men on the streets and gone to the homes of black residents to demand proof that their voter registration is correct, The New York Times recently reported. In other states, polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods have been closed or moved.
Such attempts to rig elections are anathema to the American voting system — and they represent genuine attempts to undermine the integrity of American elections, unlike the conspiracy theories that Donald Trump has made central to his campaign.
Thankfully, courts across the country are delivering well-deserved rebukes to such discriminatory policies.