GOP Obliterates Voting Rights in North Carolina
We’ve previously discussed the extremist takeover of North Carolina and the Moral Monday protests that have arisen in response. The extreme right-wing of the GOP that now apparently controls the state has rolled back decades of progress on nearly every issue in an apparent attempt to create some sort of you’re-on-your-own utopia for the rich, powerful and well-connected. By contrast, the state’s middle class and the poor will be, well, on their own.
Last month, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) broke an unambiguous campaign promise to sign no further restrictions on abortion and signed an anti-abortion bill so sweeping it will close all but one of the state’s approximately three-dozen abortion clinics. The state then promptly shut down the one clinic that was believed to be able to meet the restrictions under the new law.
It gets worse.
Yesterday McCrory announced that he had signed what has been described as the biggest attack on voting rights anywhere in the United States in recent memory. Here’s how election law expert Rick Hasen described the measure:
North Carolina’s governor signed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the Nation. I have been trying to think of another state law passed since the 1965 Voting Rights Act to rival this law but I cannot. It is a combination of cutbacks in early voting, restrictions on voter registration, imposition of new requirements on voters such as photo identification in voting, limitations on poll worker activity to help voters, and other actions which as a whole cannot be interpreted as anything other than an effort to make it harder for some people—and likely poor people, people of color, old people and others likely to “skew Democratic”—to vote.
As Hasen says, the law is shocking in terms of both the shear breadth and depth of its attack on voting rights. Here are just some of the law’s provisions:
Implementing a strict voter ID requirement that bars citizens who don’t have a proper photo ID from casting a ballot. Eliminating same-day voter registration, which allowed residents to register at the polls. Cutting early voting by a full week. Increasing the influence of money in elections by raising the maximum campaign contribution to $5,000 and increasing the limit every two years. Making it easier for voter suppression groups like True The Vote to challenge any voter who they think may be ineligible by requiring that challengers simply be registered in the same county, rather than precinct, of those they challenge. Vastly increasing the number of “poll observers” and increasing what they’re permitted to do. In 2012, ThinkProgress caught the Romney campaign training such poll observers using highly misleading information. Only permitting citizens to vote in their specific precinct, rather than casting a ballot in any nearby ward or election district. This can lead to widespread confusion, particularly in urban areas where many precincts can often be housed in the same building. Barring young adults from pre-registering as 16- and 17-year-olds, which is permitted by current law, and repealing a state directive that high schools conduct voter registration drives in order to boost turnout among young voters. Prohibiting some types of paid voter registration drives, which tend to register poor and minority citizens. Dismantling three state public financing programs, including the landmark program that funded judicial elections. Weakening disclosure requirements for outside spending groups. Preventing counties from extending polling hours in the event of long lines or other extraordinary circumstances and making it more difficult for them to accommodate elderly or disabled voters with satellite polling sites at nursing homes, for instance.
The GOP’s attack on voting rights in North Carolina comes as part of what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described yesterday as an “unseemly rush” by states formerly covered under the Voting Rights Act’s pre-clearance system to enact restrictions “that will make it harder to vote for millions of Americans.” While Clinton pointed specifically to new restrictions in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, “home to what she called the ‘greatest hits of voter suppression,’” she observed that they were part of “a sweeping effort across our country to construct new obstacles to voting.”
In a not-so-subtle jab at the Supreme Court majority, including Chief Justice John Roberts, that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in June, Clinton added, “Anyone that says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.” She also dismissed the “phantom epidemic of election fraud” cited by McCrory and other Republicans as the justification for enacting restrictions on voting.
BOTTOM LINE: The Department of Justice has vowed to use all tools at its disposal to protect the rights of voters, but it’s time for Congress to right the Supreme Court’s wrong and restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. These protections served Americans for nearly five decades and are clearly still needed in order to prevent the right wing from enacting immoral and anti-democratic attacks on voting rights that could disenfranchise millions of voters.