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WSJ's Defense of Anti-Voter Provisions is Wrong

J. Mijin Cha

The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page is often an exercise in how to completely misinterpret policy and/or data. Monday’s attack on Hillary Clinton’s speech on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County is no exception. In her speech, Clinton criticized the Court for its ruling and said:

Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.

It was this statement that the WSJ took particular issue with and that set off their misinterpretation of data exercise. The Journal correctly noted that voter turnout among people of color has increased over the past election cycles. In 2012, African-American voters did exceed their share of eligible voting age population -- African-Americans made up 12.5 percent of the eligible electorate but 13.4 percent of those voting. What the Journal misses is that voter turnout among people of color is because of electoral reform and protections. The Voting Rights Act ensured that states with historically low rates of electoral participation among communities of color had to clear any changes in voting laws or procedures before they were implemented.

This preclearance requirement helped protect against disenfranchisement. That protection has now been removed, and consequently, states are rushing to implement laws that make it more difficult to vote. The Journal criticizes attacks on North Carolina’s anti-voter “monster bill” and states:

But that supposed horror show merely reduces early voting by a week, and bars same-day registration and extending voting hours by political whim. All of these are designed to preserve ballot integrity, which is as vital as voter access to public confidence in honest elections. Voters without an ID can get one free at the Department of Motor Vehicles and they can also cast a provisional ballot pending confirmation that they are legally registered.

This statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how electoral procedures and policies impact voter turnout. Early voting and Same Day Registration are integral to increasing turnout, particularly among people with non-flexible work schedules who tend to be lower-income voters. Provisional ballots are not the answer and in 2008 only 62.8 percent of provisional ballots in North Carolina were counted. Provisional ballots should only be used as an absolutely last resort and the need for them is greatly reduced with same day registration—which the NC legislature just revoked.

As for “ballot integrity,” which must be the new way anti-voter advocates talk about voter fraud, it has been proven time and again not to be a problem. In 2012, 0.00174 percent of all ballots cast were suspect. In 2010, 0.000738 percent of all ballots cast were suspect. During both those elections, North Carolina had early voting, same day registration, and no restrictive voter ID laws. The recent electoral reforms are not meant to fix the problem of ballot integrity or voter fraud because that problem does not exist. These reforms were passed for one simple reason: to make voting more difficult.

Voter turnout rates are increasing because the laws in place help protect the fundamental right to vote. The Journal is making the same mistake in logic that the Supreme Court made. Just because a law is working the way it was meant to doesn’t mean that it should be repealed. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent:

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.

Without these fundamental protections, Clinton is right to be concerned about future turnout rates among communities of color. It’s not racial politics, it’s reality.