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Punish public officials who disenfranchise voters

Catherine Rampell on

On Wednesday, a federal court struck down the state's voter ID laws, which the judge determined had been "enacted with discriminatory intent -- knowingly placing additional burdens on a disproportionate number of Hispanic and African-American voters."

The same court had found the state's voter ID law discriminatory in 2014, and Wednesday's ruling determined that a new, watered-down version was no better. While a challenge had been working its way through the judicial system, a "discriminatory" law was in effect for multiple statewide elections.

Where is the justice for those denied suffrage in Kansas, Texas and other states?

Their elections are effectively tainted, but they're also over. Nothing to be done about them now.

There should be, though.

If we want state officials to stop erring so often on the side of disenfranchising voters, we need to start punishing them for illegally denying Americans the right to vote, rather than just have courts say, "Hey now, don't do that again."

The costs are much too low for public officials who, whether deliberately or mistakenly, disenfranchise Americans.

On very, very rare occasions, if a plaintiff can prove that an election was sufficiently tainted, a judge could order a new election. Also on very, very rare occasions, individuals can be charged with a criminal offense if they can be proved to have intentionally interfered with someone's votes.

But for the most part, policies that systemically disenfranchise thousands of voters -- and possibly swing election results -- go unpunished.

A state's bad law or administrative policy gets struck down, and officials are just forced to do things differently in the next election.

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