Voting right advocates in North Carolina, led by the state NAACP and African-American community activists, are fighting county by county to prevent voter suppression in the upcoming November presidential elections. Hundreds of people are demonstrating and sitting in.
This is necessary even though on July 29, a federal court struck down a 2013 law it said was “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
The North Carolina legislature was captured by right wingers in 2010. Starting mere hours after the Supreme Court gutted the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013, they pushed through what observers said was the most draconian anti-voter law in the nation.
It reversed years of policies passed by Democrats to increase voter participation.
The new law slapped onerous ID requirements on voters, ended same day registration, limited early voting and Sunday voting, ended the practice of allowing high school students to pre-register in civics classes or when they got their driver’s licenses, outlawed casting ballots out of your home precinct and did away with the ability of counties to extend voting hours on election days if there were long lines of people waiting to vote.
In knocking down the law, the 4th Circuit Appeals court said that Republican lawmakers had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The Washington Post quoted Representative Henry Michaux, one of North Carolina’s first black legislators, as saying “Some folks don’t own a car. Some have the type of job where you can’t take a day off.”
The court reinstated early voting of no less than a week, but did not specify what times or places the early voting would take place.
Republicans, who run many counties, are now using that glitch to restrict voting despite the court ruling.
The stakes are high. North Carolina is a swing state and voting there could have a major impact on who wins the presidential election. The majority of African Americans are registered as Democrats.
To skew voting in favor of Republican candidates, North Carolina counties are trying to cancel Sunday voting and cut back the number of polling places, especially in neighborhoods with high percentages of black and student voters. One county, Wake, which includes the state capital, Raleigh, tried to restrict early voting days to a single location with limited parking.
Whenever a county tries to shut down voting rights, hundreds of people show up and disrupt meetings with chanting and freedom songs.
African American voters in North Carolina have learned to be vigilant the hard way. Republicans succeeded in passing the voter suppression law in 2013 by using secrecy and speed.
In April of 2013, the GOP rammed through the North Carolina House a bill requiring state-issued voter ID. At that time, under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, states with a history of voter discrimination like North Carolina were required to get the approval of the Department of Justice before putting such measures into effect.
So instead of passing the bill, the Republicans let it sit in the state Senate.
Then, on June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court killed the requirement. Hours later, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules committee, Tom Apodaca, announced that now that the “legal headache” of the Voting Rights act was gone, there would be a new version of the bill.
There was little or no discussion. Five days before the end of the legislative session, Republicans e-mailed their new version. There was only one public hearing and participants were given only a brief, incomplete description of the bill. Only ten people were allowed to speak for two minutes each.
Within three days, GOP legislators passed the bill in the Senate Rules Committee, passed it in a Senate floor vote, sent it back to the House, where it was passed 73 to 41. All those who voted for the bill were white Republicans and every black member of the legislature voted against it.
The law was rushed through to passage, but the 4th Circuit Appeals court learned that it had been carefully researched by GOP lawmakers and staffers for months to make sure it suppressed the votes of African Americans.
Election board members and other officials showed the court e-mails from lawmakers requesting information about voter turnout by race and a racial breakdown of how many voters cast ballots out of precinct. The lawmakers also asked for information about who voted early, and a racial breakdown of registered voters who did not have driver’s licenses or did have student IDs.
There were no reasons given for the requests.
But a member of the 4th Circuit court wrote that his panel had discovered the reason. “Neither this legislature – nor, as far as we can tell, any other legislature in the country – has ever done so much, so fast, to restrict voting access.”
David Lewis, a North Carolina state legislator who helped coordinate GOP efforts to limit voting, said he did it because he was deeply worried about voter fraud. However, a report by the North Carolina Board of Elections showed that between 2000 and 2012 there were some 40 million votes cast and only two cases of voter fraud.
Carter Wrenn, a Republican North Carolina consultant, was quoted in the Post as saying that the legislators who passed the voter suppression bill weren’t motivated by racism, but by politics.
“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it is,” Wrenn told the Post.
Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP said, “You can’t expect racists to come right out and sound like racists. They’ve substituted the word ‘racial’ with the word ‘political.'”
Racial or political, voter suppression is voter suppression and it’s still being challenged in North Carolina.
Photo: North Carolina NAACP Facebook, Moral March to the Polls tour September 6.