By: Juven Jacob
In what is undoubtably the harshest voter suppression bill in the entire country, the North Carolina Republican dominated legislature just passed a sweeping bill in the latest Republican war on voting rights. Exercising our right to vote is arguably the most important civic duty we have as citizens of a democracy — I would say almost sacred. We have waged war within our own borders to maintain a nation united as one. We have waged wars overseas to protect our democracy from foreign threats. Hundreds of thousands of men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms and the all fundamental right to vote.
The bill formally named House Bill 589 takes a devastating blow to North Carolina's current voting laws. Here are some of the most egregious attempts to roll back democracy:
- It implements a strict voter ID law. College IDs will no longer be a valid form of identification although they have been used for decades. North Carolina has a robust system of colleges, including North Carolina Central University and for a vast amount of students, their college ID is the only form of identification they have. County or municipal goverment IDs and public employee IDs will also no longer be a valid form of identification. It is estimated this will disenfranchise 318,000 North Carolina voters.
- It cuts back early voting by an entire week from 17 days to only 10 days. This is especially important since in 2012 a majority (62%) of North Carolina voters utilized the early voting process. It forbids early voting on Sunday, which is predominately a day when black churches bus voters to vote dubbed "souls to the polls."
- Eliminates same day registration. In 2012 more than 155,000 people took part in same day registration and voted but that option will no longer be available. You see it makes it too easy for you to register same day and vote. These last minute voters tend to vote democratic.
- Counties will no longer be able to extend voting hours if the lines are long or other extraordinary circumstances. In the past, it is customary for counties to extend by an hour to accommodate long lines or particular circumstances, i.e. a machine goes out. We all saw the massive lines in Florida during the 2012 election, partly due by the cut back in early voting. And as mentioned above, early voting is cut down considerably. Long lines or a machine goes down -- doesn't matter — you will be turned away.
- Eliminates a young adults pre-registeration drive that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they are set-up to vote at 18. And it repeals a state directive that high schools conduct voter registration drives in order to boost turnout among young voters. Young voters tend to vote democratic.
- It prohibits paid voter registration drives which tend to register poor and minority voters. These same types of voters also happen to vote democratic.
- Out of precinct voting is prohibited. Voters must vote in their precinct, rather than casting a ballot in any nearby ward or election district. In this same instance, it is customary for a voter to be allowed to cast a provisional ballot if they show up at the wrong precinct but provisional ballot voting is also prohibited; you will be denied the right to vote.
The audacity of the Republican legislature to call this the "Voter Protection" bill. Rather than protect the vote it dismantles North Carolina's existing voting laws which were put in place through the years on a bipartisan bases. It is notable that this bill initially came to the senate only as a voter ID bill. The very first bullet point above was the only thing proposed. Freed from the restraints of section 5 of the voting rights act after the conservatives on the Supreme Court struck it down, the Republicans brought the bill back and added a slew of other provisions. Section 5 of the voting rights act forced pre-clearance changes to voting laws by states with a history of voter suppression.
Voter fraud is often the argument you hear from the Republicans wanting to pass strict voter ID bills but rampant voter fraud is a myth. In 2012 alone, 7 million ballots were cast in the general and two primary elections. The North Carolina Board of Elections cited 121 alleged voter fraud cases to be reviewed. This means that out of 7 million ballots casted, voter fraud accounted for a dismal .00174% of the ballots. In the 2010 election cycle, 3.79 million ballots were cast and 28 of those were cited for alleged voter fraud by the North Carolina Board of Elections. This means out of 3.79 million ballots casted, voter fraud accounted for .000738 of the ballots. To use voter fraud to advance any bill restricting the access to vote is a disgraceful lie.
You see when we walk into that voting booth, it doesn't matter if you're black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, a believer or non-believer, male or female, conservative or liberal; that precious all sacred vote counts the same. That is the beauty of a democracy. We don't need a revolution, our revolution takes place at the ballot box. We all have the power to change the direction of our country by voting. And that is exactly the reason why we must perpetually err on the side of caution and always advance the right to vote.
As House Bill 589 was voted on and the votes were read, Democratic lawmakers stood with their heads bowed — every single one of them voting against it.
A shameful new low for the Republican Party.