Voting in North Carolina may soon change, much in the same way a wrecking ball changes a building.
The highly-conservative North Carolina legislature just released a new voter suppression bill that would enact not just voter ID, but a host of other new initiatives designed to make it more difficult to vote. A significant roadblock to the legislation was removed last month when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states with a history of racial discrimination like North Carolina to enact new voter suppression laws.
- 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.
Each of these changes, on their own, would be a significant step away from increasing voting rights. Taken together, this is the voter suppression magnum opus.
Republicans currently hold strong majorities in both legislative houses and control the governorship, leaving Democrats with little recourse to block HB 589. In the last few weeks, Republicans have passed conservative legislation on a range of issues, from a major anti-choice bill to tax cuts for the rich paid for by the poor.
If passed, HB 589 will almost certainly have a disastrous impact on voting in North Carolina. As Ari Berman notes, 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early in 2012, including a disproportionate number of minorities. In addition, more than 155,000 voters registered to vote at the polls last year. And with 10 percent of North Carolinians — 613,000 people, a third of whom are black and half of whom are registered Democrats — lacking photo ID, it doesn’t take Encyclopedia Brown to figure out which party will be helped by HB 589.
In December, the Center for American Progress released a report detailing 11 specific pieces of legislation state lawmakers could enact to strengthen voting rights. This North Carolina bill is what you would get if you looked at that report, then did the exact opposite.