This week, the North Carolina legislature will almost certainly pass a strict new voter ID law that could disenfranchise 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of accepted state-issued ID. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bill has since been amended by Republicans to include a slew of appalling voter suppression measures. They include cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during the early voting period and making it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters. The bill is being debated this afternoon in the Senate Rules Committee. Here are the details, via North Carolina State Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake County):
If anyone had any doubt about the bill’s intent to suppress voters, all he/she has to do is read it. The bill now does the following:
*shortens early voting by 1 week,
*eliminates same day registration and provisional voting if at wrong precinct,
*prevents counties from offering voting on last Saturday before the election beyond 1 pm,
*prevents counties from extending poll hours by one hour on election day in extraordinary circumstances (like lengthy lines),
*eliminates state supported voter registration drives and preregistration for 16/17 year olds,
*repeals voter owned judicial elections and straight party voting,
*increases number of people who can challenge voters inside the precinct, and
*purges voter rolls more often.
Meanwhile, it floods the democratic process with more money. The bill makes it easier for outside groups to spend on electioneering and reduces disclosure of the sources. It also raises the contribution limits to $5k per person per election from $4k and indexes to amount to rise with inflation.
The bill even eliminates Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration, notes Brent Laurenz, executive director of the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Voter Education. Because God forbid we encourage people to vote! The proposed bill eliminates nearly all of the democratic advances that made North Carolina one of the most progressive Southern states when it comes to voting rights and one of the top fifteen states in voter turnout nationally, guaranteeing that there will be longer lines at the polls, less voter participation and much more voter confusion.
The legislation is likely to be deeply unpopular. For example, 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early during the 2012 election. Blacks used early voting at a higher rate than whites, comprising a majority of those who voted absentee or early. According to Public Policy Polling, 78 percent of North Carolinians support the current early voting system and 75 percent have used it in the past.
In addition, over 155,000 voters registered to vote and voted on the same day during the early voting period in 2012. “Voters expressed their satisfaction and gratitude that North Carolina had a process that afforded citizens with more opportunities to register and vote,” said a 2009 report from the state board of elections.
Republicans in North Carolina have taken abuse of democratic process to a whole new extreme: they’ve won elections with the help of huge corporate money, they’ve gerrymandered the legislative maps to resegregate the state and drastically limit the representation of their political opponents, they’ve passed a slew of extreme right-wing bills in the past few months to benefit the top 1 percent and harm everyone else—and now they’re going all out to prevent those opposed to that political agenda from exercising their democratic rights. “There’s a certain evil symmetry to the proposal,” writes Rob Schofield, director of research for NC Policy Watch. “After having spent months passing scores of regressive and destructive proposals into law, state leaders are now, like thieves covering their tracks, doing everything in their power to make sure they’re not caught or punished for their actions.”
In the final depressing twist, North Carolina no longer has to clear these voting changes with the federal government, since the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Nevertheless, it’s almost certain parts of the legislation—if enacted—will be challenged under the state constitution or other provisions of the VRA, and could very well spark a major backlash among North Carolina voters. In twelve weeks, more than 900 North Carolinians have been arrested for peaceful protest as part of the Moral Monday movement. Recently, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca boasted that North Carolina would no longer have to go through the legal headache of complying with Section 5 of the VRA. Responded Rev. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, “If you think you can take away our voting rights, you’ll have a headache.”
[UPDATE, 3:22 pm, July 23: The bill passed the Senate Rules Committee this afternoon, now goes to full Senate and then to House.]
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