North Carolina tries to revive its discriminatory voter ID law as constitutional amendment

Advocates are pressuring Apple and Amazon to fight back.

North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images )
North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images )

Two years after federal courts struck down North Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law, Republican lawmakers are trying to revive their strict requirements by passing an amendment to the state’s constitution.

In an effort to stop the lawmakers from reinstating the law, which the U.S. Supreme Court said last year targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” advocates are going after two unlikely targets: Apple and Amazon.

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If the voter ID amendment passes with 60 percent in both chambers — which is likely given the GOP’s supermajority in the legislature — voters would decide on the issue on the November ballot. 

Though courts could also invalidate this new form of the voter ID law, opponents don’t want to take any chances. So voting advocates affiliated with Color of Change, a civil rights organization, launched a campaign this week against the two tech giants, pressuring them to threaten not to move their headquarters to North Carolina if the the state intends to enforce a voter ID law.

“Amazon and Apple are two of the biggest corporations in American and they’re looking at moving to a state that legitimately is trying to block black people from voting,” said William Matthews, a Christian musician. Matthews grew up in North Carolina and recently launched a petition calling on Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook, the CEOs of Amazon and Apple, to “say no to North Carolina’s racist attacks on voting rights.”

“Amazon and Apple are two of the biggest corporations in American and they’re looking at moving to a state that legitimately is trying to block black people from voting”

Both Apple and Amazon have been eyeing Raleigh, the state capital, as a potential location for new headquarters, and a new report puts the city as a frontrunner among 20 finalist locations vying for the coveted Amazon HQ2.

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“It’s not as much about going after Apple and Amazon as it is holding them accountable to their values of inclusivity,” Matthews said. “We wanted to just highlight that for you to move your headquarters to North Carolina with this amendment becoming a bill is not who you are.”

Brandi Collins-Dexter, the senior campaign director for Color of Change, noted that House Speaker Tim Moore, the lead sponsor of the new bill, and the other Republicans pushing it left the details “intentionally vague” — the bill does not specify which forms of photo ID would be accepted under the new law. “To us, that’s even more alarming,” she told ThinkProgress.

On Wednesday, Color of Change ran print ads in the San Jose Mercury News and Seattle Times — papers read by Apple and Amazon employees — encouraging them to “reject racism.”

Matthews said the effort was inspired by the successful campaign to kill North Carolina’s transgender bathroom bill. “We saw what happened when sports leagues and companies told North Carolina: ‘We’re not going to work with you if you’re going to discriminate like this,'” he said.

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Research shows that voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, low-income voters, and the elderly. North Carolina’s law, passed in 2013 and widely considered the most aggressive of its kind in the country, required a photo ID (but did not allow student IDs or public employee IDs), even though the state found that roughly 318,000 registered voters lack the forms of acceptable ID.

North Carolina spent millions of dollars defending the law in court, while a significant number of black voters were kept from participating in elections.

“I think of all the elderly African American people who are disabled, who don’t get out of their homes a lot, who don’t actually have voter IDs,” Matthews said. “They’re American citizens, just like you and me. They’re eligible black voters, but they just don’t have a government-issued ID because they can’t afford it or they can’t take time off work.”

The issue is personal to Matthews, as many of those same people were congregants at the small black church in Raleigh where his father once served a pastor, preaching about equality and standing up for what is right — and encouraging his son to do the same.

“This bill is unconstitutional, it’s illegal, it’s racist, it’s un-American, it’s undemocratic, and it’s not who we are,” Matthews said.