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In our opinion: Federal overreach

Published: Friday, Oct. 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Texas or North Carolina are the states that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has sent his lawyers after following legislation that changed voting procedures. The dispute in Texas is mostly over a sweeping redistricting plan, while in North Carolina the concern appears to be mainly over a new requirement that voters produce valid identification before casting a ballot.

Associated Press

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The Justice Department’s decision to file suit against two states over recently passed voting laws has all of the appearances of a crusade in search of a cause. If the cause is to stop states from restricting access to polls, then the Justice Department should search some more, because there is little evidence that is the intention of either Texas or North Carolina.

Those are the states that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has sent his lawyers after following legislation that changed voting procedures. The dispute in Texas is mostly over a sweeping redistricting plan, while in North Carolina the concern appears to be mainly over a new requirement that voters produce valid identification before casting a ballot.

What the lawsuits really appear to be about is preserving the ability of the federal government to directly insert itself into the enactment of state voting procedures. There was once good reason for that to happen, during a time when there was evidence that voting laws were being implemented in some jurisdictions with the intent of deterring black citizens from casting ballots.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act addressed those abuses, and one of the law’s provisions was to require states with a history of such manipulation to obtain federal approval before changing voter laws. But the Supreme Court recently struck down that provision, ruling that the 40-year-old formula used to gauge the need for federal intervention is outdated and is no longer a valid measure of potential discrimination.

It appears the Obama administration isn’t willing to accept the court’s reasoning, and has decided to use tools of litigation to assert its authority in spite of what the court ruled. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory calls the lawsuit against his state a clear case of federal overreach. We agree.

Should North Carolina or any other jurisdiction engage in actions that restrict access to polling places by certain classes of citizens, there is no question that the federal government should step in, and in reality, it still can. Where abuses should occur, Congress may take action, and the attorney general could and should use his authority to stop it. But there is no clear evidence that the laws passed in Texas and North Carolina will have that effect. Holder promised he would publish such evidence, but has yet to do so.

Several states, including Utah, have enacted laws requiring voters to present identification when casting ballots. It is unclear why the administration considers North Carolina’s law so offensive.

It is the duty of state and local government to set in place the processes to manage citizen voting, and they should be allowed to do so without federal interference unless there is evidence they have run astray. Minus such evidence, lawsuits filed by the attorney general are an act to protect against an inferred harm, not an actual one, and do not represent a judicious exercise of government authority.

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