Kudos to courts on voting rights

The Charlotte Observer

Justly, federal courts recently upended efforts by the GOP in Kansas, Wisconsin and North Carolina to enforce stricter identification and registration laws that deter minorities from voting.

Voting is an integral part of what makes the United States a democracy, but some groups are aiming to make it more difficult for others likely to vote against them to exercise this right.

Kentucky can be proud that we have not attempted to institute laws like one in North Carolina, a swing state, that sought to limit the number of acceptable IDs, eliminate same-day registration and reduce early voting. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that those actions exclusively targeted African-American voters.

A three-judge panel of the court found the law, passed two years after Republicans took control of the state legislature for the first time in a century, sought to entrench GOP politicians in power. “It did so by targeting voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Even if done for partisan ends, that constituted racial discrimination,” the panel held.

North Carolina is expected to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the panel’s decision for the upcoming election. The court should reject the request and avoid manipulating the state’s elections, expected to be among the tightest in the country.

Kentucky, in need of voting-law revisions that would improve access, recently implemented online registration that could help increase dismal turnout at the polls. So could early and weekend voting and longer polling hours.

Also, Kentucky remains one of two states in the country that do not allow felons who have served their time to regain the right to vote, unless there is a successful petition of the governor.

One in four black Kentuckians is locked out of voting because of a criminal conviction, the nation’s highest rate of minority disenfranchisement. In most states, the right to vote is restored after the felon has served their sentence. This impacts an estimated 180,000 Kentuckians who would be able to vote if their right was restored.

Despite bipartisan support, the Republican-controlled Senate has been the roadblock after the House approved restoring voting rights to those who were not convicted of violent felonies, sex crimes, treason or election bribery. The Senate also has repeatedly killed House-approved bills that allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights.

Voting restrictions are promoted in the name of preventing voter fraud, which has not been documented. In Kentucky, the fraud — by Democrats and Republicans — is more about vote-buying. For example, Magoffin County elected officials and others are currently on trial in federal court for engaging in a years-long ploy to corrupt elections by buying votes.

This sort of vote fraud corrupts the democratic landscape and prevents Kentucky from prospering, not minorities attempting to exercise their right to vote or felons reintegrating into civil society.