After latest court setback, Tim Moore and the GOP must drop their voter ID con

After latest court setback, Tim Moore and the GOP must drop their voter ID con

Say this for North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and his surrogates: They are determined con artists. 

After a unanimous state Court of Appeals panel dealt the GOP its latest voter ID defeat Tuesday, Moore seemed in his scathing rebuttal more like a desperate salesman pitching a broken vacuum than the speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives.

We ordered him off the porch years ago when the machine began belching smoke, but Moore just kept on pitching from the driveway. Now he stands at the property line, shouting over passing traffic.

“North Carolinians know that General Assembly leaders will continue to fight on their behalf for a commonsense voter ID law that they chose to put in our state constitution, and we will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process,” Moore declared in a statement shortly after the ruling went public, neglecting to mention that the state’s strict photo ID provisions are not particularly common or sensible

Is this all Moore and his party have to do, attempt once more to fool us with voter fraud’s tap-dancing strawman? Isn’t there a pack of mewling kittens across town they’d rather be kicking?

Where some saw lessons in Jim Crow’s suppression of emergent Black voters, North Carolina’s Republican Party saw a playbook instead. 

Republicans should stand down on voter ID for a host of reasons, not the least of which being that we have arrived to this point not at the behest of actual events, at an undeniable tide of voter fraud that never materialized. But at the increasingly shrill urging of Republicans who hired crooked consultants to run the numbers, determining that the best way to ensure their political survival in a politically and racially diversifying state was to gerrymander, suppress liberal voters and manipulate majority power from a clever minority. 

Where some saw lessons in Jim Crow’s suppression of emergent Black voters, North Carolina’s Republican Party saw a playbook instead.

Ex-Gov. Pat McCrory signed voter ID into law in August 2013, just weeks after John Roberts’ U.S. Supreme Court released southern states like North Carolina from the Voting Rights Act’s longtime “preclearance” requirement for voting reforms—a preclearance intended to impede precisely the kind of discriminatory rulemaking Republicans hatched that year.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said as much in her dissent, writing that dismissing portions of the Voting Rights Act because it was effective was akin to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

That Republicans intended to discriminate is not a matter of interpretation but of record.

North Carolina Republican leaders as much as admitted to their racially-motivated machinations in 2016, during the court proceedings that excoriated lawmakers for their “surgical precision” in impeding Black voters and others that tend to vote for Democrats—mandating photo ID, chopping early voting hours, eliminating same-day registration and Sunday voting. 

“The only clear factor linking these various ‘reforms’,” Court of Appeals Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote of the voter ID law in 2016, “is their impact on African American voters. The record thus makes obvious that the ‘problem’ the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party. Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so.”

Republican state Rep. Larry Pittman set the righteously aggrieved tone for the GOP’s wounded voter ID argument in 2013, replacing the Jim Crow era’s billy clubs with an uncharacteristic plea for racial harmony. It struck a dissonant chord with Pittman because the firebrand legislator has twice compared Lincoln to Adolf Hitler.

“I’m offended by the suggestion that this bill is intended to suppress the vote of people who are not white,” Pittman implored. “Because to me, this bill seeks to address the issue of voter fraud. To say that it is intended to suppress the vote of citizens who are not white is to say that only non-white people are likely to commit voter fraud. That idea offends me on behalf of my brothers and sisters who are not white. I believe that white people are just as capable of voter fraud as anyone else.”

Whether Black North Carolinians appreciated Pittman’s unconvincing  concern is not something I can answer. But we can conclude that Pittman and Speaker Moore misled North Carolinians about the party’s intentions.

Moore misled in 2013, when voter ID made its emergence in the General Assembly, characterizing it as a patch on voter fraud, an extraordinarily rare occurrence. He misled in 2016, when he blasted federal courts for dismantling that law. He misled voters when reviving voter ID in 2018, placing a nebulously worded constitutional referendum on the ballot. And he misled this week when he pitched Republicans’ voter ID law as “lenient.”

At some point long, long ago, we might have dispensed with the idea that Moore and company mislead. They lie. 

Historians and journalists are staggered by the historical echoes of this era, but these things will be assessed differently than the first architects of Jim Crow. It is often implied if not stated outright that we should not judge men and women for the ugly opinions of a sepia-toned era, reserving some benevolence for those who rarely practiced such benevolence themselves. But how are we to judge the ugly opinions of men and women who hold to them in the present? 

We judge them harshly. Because in 2020, we understand that placing obstacles in the path of some undermines democracy for all, that a representative democracy that tries its level best to diminish or eradicate representation for some becomes something else instead.

Wherever voter ID goes from here—Moore insists the GOP will fight on—call it a partisan wedge. Call it a cynically-authored solution in search of a problem. Call it a splash of fuel on a world that already burns. Call it reaffirmation that the Roberts Supreme Court erred. Call it political gamesmanship that sought, when it was completed, to end the game altogether.

But do not, whatever you do, call it an anachronism anymore. 

Voter ID and voter suppression are not just antiquated tools of an old guard. They are blades honed razor sharp by modern-day Republicans to win elections.

These Republicans don’t look like grainy, black-and-white photos. They look like Speaker Moore, a man who is not out of another time.

Indeed, Moore is a man who, for this party, in this time, is the embodiment of the 21st Century Republican.