North Carolina approves nation's most restrictive voter suppression law

SCOTUS' gutting of the Voting Rights Act paves way for radical new restrictions on democracy in the Tar Heel State

Published July 26, 2013 12:33PM (EDT)

                           (<a href=''>Andrey Burmakin</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Andrey Burmakin via Shutterstock)

Late Thursday night, the North Carolina state legislature approved a radical voter suppression bill on a party line vote. The measure, easily the most extreme anti-voter bill passed by any state since the Jim Crow era, now heads to Republican Governor Pat McCrory for his signature. Court challenges -- many of them -- will most assuredly follow.

I discussed the Tar Heel State Republicans' horrendous voter suppression law as it moved through the state legislature earlier this week in an article focused on the public pushback against both it and other radical laws being hurriedly enacted in the state while the Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the state house, as well as the governorship there. It's the first time in 150 years that that has been the case, and the GOP is making all they can of it, voters be damned.

I also discussed the bill on this week's KPFK BradCast. But I want to highlight just how draconian this massive restriction on voting rights actually is in North Carolina, which, until the complete Republican takeover of the state government in 2012 (thanks to gerrymandering in 2010), had actually been a fairly progressive state by southeast standards, particularly in regard to voting laws.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent gutting of the important preclearance provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act --- the provision which had required states with histories of racial discrimination, like North Carolina, to obtain federal approval before making any changes to voting laws -- North Carolina and other states now "freed" from the yoke of not being able to discriminate have been on a tear to pass discriminatory laws previously denied under the VRA.

NC has now done that in a way that no other state has yet even tried. They have, in essence, included in this bill every conceivable voter suppression tactic that has ever been dreamed up over the past decade by the Republican Party --- and then some.

UC Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen described the bill as "a nightmare for voting-rights advocates."

It includes draconian polling place Photo ID restrictions (despite any evidence of polling place impersonation in the state), shortens the early voting period and eliminates NC's very successful same-day voter registration program. "But," Hasen adds, "it's also a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote, and which cannot plausibly be justified on antifraud grounds."

Just take a look at the list of some of the other provisions including in this "nightmare" of an anti-democratic -- as well as anti-Democratic -- voter suppression bill...


Other provisions in the revamped bill include the following:

  • Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18.
  • Outlaw paid voter registration drives.
  • Eliminate straight-ticket voting.
  • Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct.
  • Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines.
  • Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered.
  • Move the presidential primary to the first Tuesday after South Carolina's primary if that state holds its primary before March 15. That would mean North Carolina would have two primaries during presidential elections.
  • Study electronic filing for campaign returns.
  • Increase the maximum allowed campaign contribution per election from $4,000 to $5,000.
  • Loosen disclosure requirements in campaign ads paid for by independent committees.
  • Repeal the publicly funded election program for appellate court judges.
  • Repeal the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaigns.

This is the whole ball of wax. Everything that a Republican desperate to stay in power by keeping legal (Democratic-leaning) voters from being able to cast their legal vote could ever want, short of a provision declaring outright that "Non-Republican voters need not apply."

NC Policy Watch describes the legislation as the "worse-than-anyone-would-have-ever-imagined voter suppression bill." They are right.

"The proposed bill," writes Ari Berman at The Nation, "eliminates nearly all of the democratic advances that made North Carolina one of the most progressive Southern states when it comes to voting rights and one of the top fifteen states in voter turnout nationally, guaranteeing that there will be longer lines at the polls, less voter participation and much more voter confusion."

"The legislation is likely to be deeply unpopular. For example, 56 percent of North Carolinians voted early during the 2012 election. Blacks used early voting at a higher rate than whites, comprising a majority of those who voted absentee or early. According to Public Policy Polling, 78 percent of North Carolinians support the current early voting system and 75 percent have used it in the past."

"In addition," Berman continues, "over 155,000 voters registered to vote and voted on the same day during the early voting period in 2012. 'Voters expressed their satisfaction and gratitude that North Carolina had a process that afforded citizens with more opportunities to register and vote,' said a 2009 report from the state board of elections."

North Carolina "went from beacon of tolerance to bastion of voter suppression in a month," charges Dahlia Lithwick at Slate in her article aptly titled "What's the Matter with North Carolina?"

She answers that question as follows: "It's a well-funded, Koch-endorsed Christmas rush to get everything done right now."

"How does the state legislature control an electorate that by all accounts really hates the state's new legislative initiatives?," she asked rhetorically. "Simple. Drown them out -- by diluting minority/Democratic votes through redistricting, or suppressing the vote."

There is no legitimate justification, none, for what NC Republicans are now trying to do to silence the ("wrong") voters of their state. It's the most blatant, bold, and complete effort at voter suppression seen in any state since the end of the Jim Crow era. (An era ended, by the way, by the very same Voting Rights Act the U.S. Supreme Court just decided to gut.)

The only justification for what NC is now doing (along with other states, which we'll be getting to shortly, no doubt) is found in the now infamous words of GOP demi-god Paul Weyrich, in his 1980 speech that I described long ago as the Rosetta Stone of the modern Republican voter suppression movement [emphasis added]...

WEYRICH: Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome -- good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

That's all there is to it: Keeping "the voting populace...down." End of story. Republicans seem convinced these days that that has become virtually the only way they can "win" elections. I wish there were more to it, but there ain't.

And now, with the federal Voting Rights Act crippled (at least for now), expect to see much more of this in other states if NC Republicans are successful in their efforts.

In her dissent to the SCOTUS decision that killed Section 4 of the VRA in June, Lithwick observed, "Justice Ginsburg wrote that 'the sad irony of today's decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective.' She famously added that throwing out the law's key protection for minority voters 'is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.'"

"Less than a month later," charges Lithwick, "it's raining vote suppression in North Carolina. And the forecast calls for a whole lot more of the same."

By Brad Friedman

Investigative journalist and broadcaster Brad Friedman is the creator and publisher of The BRAD Blog. He has contributed to Mother Jones, The Guardian, Truthout, Huffington Post, The Trial Lawyer magazine and Editor & Publisher.

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