North Carolina officials are mailing out absentee ballots today as the state looks towards a neck-and-neck Senate race that could determine which party controls Congress. But voters in the state will have to contend with new restrictions—passed by the State Senate just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a key pillar of the Voting Rights Act.
To combat both these limitations and the low turnout and apathy that regularly plagues midterm elections, civil rights activists have mobilized across the state to register as many voters as possible and convince them of the importance of casting a ballot this fall.
“A lot of people are registered to vote, but they don’t know exactly what they’re voting for,” said Jasmine Wright, a student at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, and one of dozens of organizers across the state with the North Carolina Moral Freedom Summer. “They basically just vote in national elections. But we’re starting to get them to wake up and understand that midterm elections are just as important as the national ones.”
Wright, who told ThinkProgress that her team has registered about 500 people so far, said she and others are already concerned about the impact the voter ID law will have on African Americans and students, because a college ID will not count under the new law.
“When they bring that law into play, that’s going to stop a lot of people who live and work in this area from voting,” she said. “I go to an HBCU [historically black college/university] and we get a lot of students coming from out of state. That’s going to be one of our biggest problems.”
Though the strict voter ID provision won’t go into effect until 2016, a judge’s ruling will allow cuts to early voting days, a ban on certain kinds of voter registration drives and the elimination of same-day voter registration.
The bill also open the floodgates to more dark money in a race that has become the most expensive in nation, by raising the caps for donations and eliminating transparency requirements that tell voters who sponsored the ad playing on their televisions.
The law passed under the leadership of Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is now running against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan for her seat in the US Senate.
At a press conference following a debate between the two candidates this week, Hagan touted her own record of urging protections for voting rights, and criticized Tillis for his role in “making voting more restrictive in North Carolina.”
“He passed the most regressive voting law in the country!” she said. “They’re trying to deter people from exercising their constitutional right. People died for that right and now they want to take it away. It’s just wrong.”
56 percent of North Carolinians voted early during the 2012 election, according to the non-partisan North Carolina Center for Voter Education, and the majority of those voters were African American.
Local groups are also raising concerns that the cuts have been distributed in discriminatory ways, accusing officials of rolling back early voting in counties with high voter turnout among African Americans.
MaryBe McMillan, the secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina chapter of the AFL-CIO, said her organization will be pouring efforts and resources into increasing turnout as the election moves into its final weeks.
“We are going to register voters. We are going to turn out the vote,” she told the crowd at a rally on Labor Day in Charlotte’s Marshall Park. “We will not rest, we will not be quiet. Our right-wing politicians are in for a rude awakening, because you can only hold folks down for so long before they rise up.”