Hillary Clinton calls North Carolina voting laws a ‘blast from a Jim Crow past’

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives at Charlotte International Airport to attend a campaign rally. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives at Charlotte International Airport to attend a campaign rally. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In a speech in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday, Hillary Clinton tore into North Carolina’s Republican leaders for making it harder for people of color, the poor, and students to vote.

Deviating from her usual stump speech about Trump’s threat to national security and American values, Clinton cited a recent federal court ruling that found the state guilty of intentional voter suppression by using voter ID laws, deep cuts to early voting, and other legal changes that, in the words of the court, “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

“These laws are a blast from the Jim Crow past and have no place in 21st century America,” she said. “We should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote, not harder.”

Watch:

Battles over voting laws are raging in North Carolina and several other key swing states, as courts have slapped down some, but not all, attempts by Republican governors to impose restrictions on when, where, and how people can cast ballots this November. But the topic has gotten little attention on the campaign trail, other than Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence asserting without evidence that voter fraud will “rig” the 2016 election.

Yet in an unusual move, Clinton dove into the issue in her speech on Thursday, detailing how North Carolina Republicans have tried to “make it harder, not just for African-Americans, but Latino people, young people” to vote.

In 2013, immediately after the Supreme Court struck down key protections in the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina Republicans pushed through a big law eliminating same-day voter registration, cutting a full week of early voting, barring voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ending straight-ticket voting, and scrapping a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day. They also implemented one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws, which excluded student IDs.

As they crafted the bill, e-mail records show, they sought out data on how each racial group voted in the past, and eliminated only the options favored by voters of color.

Although the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the legislation in July and ordered the state to restore the full 17 days of early voting, individual counties have been finding a way around the ruling.

On Thursday, just a few counties away from where Clinton was speaking, the Republican-controlled state Board of Elections gave its blessing to several counties that crafted plans to cut early voting hours. These plans were approved, many along a party-line vote, despite the presentation of evidence that massive numbers of North Carolinians — especially African-American voters — depended on early voting in recent elections.

Many of the county plans specifically targeted Sunday voting for elimination, over the outcry of civil rights groups, who pointed out the importance of the day for black churches who want to mobilize their congregations with “Souls to the Polls” events.

On Thursday, Randolph County elections board member Bill McNaulty testified that more than 30 churches in his area persuaded him to support adding one day of early voting on a Sunday in October. But after he voiced support for allowing Sunday voting, he “became a sort of villain” in his community, with local Republicans calling him a “traitor.” He changed his vote, the state elections board upheld the plan, and the county will have no Sunday voting this fall.

A similar pattern is playing out in dozens of other counties across the key swing state. And civil rights organizations and government watchdog groups will likely keep fighting these early voting cuts in court.

But Clinton urged a different response: turning out in such high numbers as to flip North Carolina blue, kick out the governor currently up for re-election, and install a government more favorable to voting rights.

“Well, what’s the best way to repudiate this kind of underhanded, mean spirited effort to deprive people of their votes?” she asked. “Get out and vote and make it clear we’re not putting up with that!”

Clinton vowed, if elected, to implement several policies to make it easier to vote — including expanded early voting, and universal registration, “so every young person in every state is automatically registered to vote when you turn 18.”

Five states have already adopted automatic voter registration — Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut — and the policy would have come to New Jersey and Illinois had Republican governors not decided to use their veto pens. In Oregon, the only state so far where the policy has gone into effect, registration and voter participation have surged. The 2016 primary had one of the highest number of voters in Oregon’s history, second only to 2008’s historic election.