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Justices Shouldn’t Walk Away from Setting Election–Reform Guidelines
   Wednesday, May 31, 2017   at   8:21 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court this month let stand a lower court ruling that invalidated a comprehensive election–reform law in North Carolina. The law most prominently eliminated same–day voter registration in the state, changed voter–ID requirements and reduced the number of early voting days.

There’s every indication, thanks to a statement from Chief Justice John Roberts, that the nation’s highest court declined to take the case because of procedural issues that have nothing to do with the merits of the law. But the end result is, the court has left election–reform opponents emboldened to attempt to turn back the clock on important safeguards to the elections process. And election–reform advocates now can’t be sure what initiatives will and won’t receive judicial approval.

The U.S. Supreme Court should take an election–reform case at its earliest convenience and use it to clarify issues it has muddied with its latest action.

Several states passed election–reform laws after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County (Ala.) v. Holder case in 2013. In that case, the court ruled, decades–old provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act should no longer apply in areas where the intent of the law had been realized. Jurisdictions which had been required to seek federal approval to make any changes in elections procedures were freed from that requirement.

Election–reform opponents have universally attacked state election–reform efforts passed in the wake of Shelby as regressive and even racist. Last month a federal judge ruled that a voter ID law in Texas was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s decision to let an appeals court’s ruling that rejects North Carolina’s law further places common–sense initiatives like requiring voter ID and setting reasonable rules for voter registration and early voting in jeopardy.

It’s possible that part of the problem has been that election–reform advocates have oversold the prevalence of voter fraud in pushing for their legislative initiatives. Our research has consistently shown that voter fraud is not widespread — though it doesn’t have to be to make a difference in a close election. Election reform’s greater function is to bolster the integrity of the elections process. Voters of all ethnicities and income levels deserve to be confident that their votes will be counted fairly and equally.

Voter ID, itself, shouldn’t be controversial at all. A previous U.S. Supreme Court case from 2008, Crawford v. Marion County (Ind.) Election Board, established that the laws themselves pass constitutional muster. We believe it’s not onerous at all for voters to prove they are who they say they are and live where they say they live. Election–reform opponents’ contention that voter–ID requirements are a modern–day poll tax enacted with racist intent is, itself, evidence of some of the worst kind of bigotry we can imagine.

We’ve noticed that as our nation continues to polarize along political lines, elections are more closely and more heatedly contested than ever. The U.S. Supreme Court should take a case that allows it to set clear guidelines about what types of voter identification are acceptable, how voting districts may and may not be drawn and how it will view legislation establishing rules for voter registration and early voting. The status quo, with courts being established as super–legislatures for election laws, sometimes days before people go to the polls, is not serving the republic.


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