Something sure is rotten in the state of North Carolina.
The state has seen its fair share of political drama over the past few months, with Governor Pat McCory signing into law a horrific anti-LGBT law and voters struggling through the one of the nation’s most regressive and restrictive voting laws in the country to cast their ballots in the March presidential primary.
And now the news only gets worse: a federal judge has upheld the state’s regressive, discriminatory, no-good, very bad voting law that was passed back in 2013. After a long legal battle, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s ruling leaves in place, at least for the time being, what former North Carolina Senator Josh Stein called "the most dramatic rewrite of election laws in a generation."
We Strongly Disagree, Your Honor
The law is a hodgepodge of various voting restrictions:
- A voter ID law, requiring government-issued ID in order to vote
- It ends same-day voter registration, requiring voters to be registered almost a month before Election Day
- It reduces the early voting period by 7 days
- It ends preregistration, which allowed young people to register prior to their 18th birthdays
- And it stipulates that any ballots cast outside of one’s home precinct will not be counted
Not cool, North Carolina. These are all measures that have been shown to disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latino voters – voices that are already lacking in our political system. To call the law discriminatory is an understatement: about 25% of African-Americans do not have a government-issued ID (compared to 8% of white Americans). Estimates suggest that almost 320,000 registered North Carolina voters do not have a driver’s license or state ID card. And voters of color are more likely to rely on early voting and same-day registration than other demographic groups.
Political figures have as much as admitted that voting laws such as this are driven by political motives, not the so-called fight against voter fraud. In the case of North Carolina, lawmakers claimed the law was intended to reduce fraud and inefficiency, although no evidence of either has been found. It’s a solution looking for a problem. Color us shocked.
Like Watching a Car Crash in Slow Motion
Following North Carolina’s regressive and restrictive voter suppression laws has been like watching a slow-motion car crash, with the voices and votes of North Carolinians sitting passively in the front seat. Here’s how it went down:
- June 2013: The Supreme Court struck down a critical part of the Voting Rights Act, the section that stipulated that places with a history of voter discrimination (like North Carolina) would have to submit any changes to their voting systems to the United States Justice Department for approval. With that section gutted, states were free to pass a wide range of regressive and discriminatory voting laws.
- August 2013: North Carolina wasted no time in taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling, and passed this atrocious package of laws, creating unnecessary barriers to voting for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, particularly the state’s African-American community.
- September 2013: The backlash from the civil rights community was quick and sharp, with allegations of discrimination from the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others coming together into one lawsuit to overturn the law.
- January 2016: This past January, the trial finally began.
- March 15, 2016: As the trial plodded on, North Carolina residents faced long lines, hassles from poll workers, confusion over the ID law, and other headaches as they tried to vote in the state’s presidential primary.
- April 25, 2016: This past Monday, a federal judge upheld the law, deeming it constitutional and sentencing North Carolina voters to the burden of these unnecessary voting barriers.
The good news is Judge Schroeder’s ruling isn’t the final word. Plaintiffs in the case are already planning a strategy to appeal to U.S. Court of Appeals. But for the time being, the sad truth is that more and more restrictive and retrogressive voting laws are popping up around the US in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 attack on the Voting Rights Act. We need a democracy that works for everyone, where everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s vote matters. Act today to restore the VRA and make voting easy, inclusive, and available to everyone.