Voting rights advocates score victory against North Carolina voter ID law

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Fifty years ago, registering to vote across much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. And while the Voting Rights Act broke down many of the formal and more ridiculous barriers to voting, today — in 2015 — there are still too many barriers to the vote, and too many people trying to erect new barriers to the vote. They’re even written into the code of law in some parts of our country — provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some people to vote.

President Barack Obama, Aug. 6 2015, the 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act

by Félix Pérez

Two  months after the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act — which broke down legal barriers at the state and local level that had prevented African Americans and others from exercising their constitutional right to vote — voting rights advocates have their eyes set on North Carolina as the bellwether for how far states will go in erecting new barriers to voting.

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The latest salvo came last month, when a Wake County judge refused a request from state lawmakers to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a voter ID requirement. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which includes the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the American Civil Liberties Union , argue that state legislators violated the state constitution when they added the ID requirement as part of an elections law overhaul in 2013. In addition to the ID requirement, legislators shortened weekday early voting periods, eliminated early voting on Sundays, eliminated preregistration for high school students, and eliminated same-day registration during early voting. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections.

Lyndon_Johnson VRA memeThe lawsuit states: “North Carolina has a long and sad history of official discrimination against African Americans, including official discrimination in voting that has touched upon the right of African Americans and other people of color to register, vote, or otherwise participate in the democratic process.” The law’s provisions “unduly burden” the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, maintains the legal challenge.

Advocates of voter IDs and other restrictions argue that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. Voting rights advocates respond that not only is voter fraud a rare occurrence, but conservative lawmakers passed such laws with the intention of discriminating against African Americans, Latinos, students, and poor and elderly residents who are less likely to vote for them. According to the State Board of Elections, more than 600,000 registered voters lack photo ID.

The U.S. Justice Department has also filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina law as well. It alleges the state also targeted minorities by requiring photo identification, reducing voting hours and abolishing same-day registration.

Voting rights advocates have cited the cost associated with acquiring government IDs as a barrier to poor urban and rural voters, who often do not have the means or transportation to go to government offices to get an ID.

One such place where it will be a lot harder for African Americans to get an ID is Alabama. This week the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced that it would close driver license bureaus in eight of 10 counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters. In other words, in a state where a special government ID is now required to vote, every county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed.

John Archibald, with AL.com, wrote:

It’s not just a civil rights violation. It is not just a public relations nightmare. It is not just an invitation for worldwide scorn and an alarm bell to the Justice Department. It is an affront to the very notion of justice in a nation where one man one vote is as precious as oxygen. It is a slap in the face to all who believe the stuff we teach the kids about how all are created equal.

 

Reader Comments

  1. Oregon has no obstacles to voting. We just became the first state to pass the motor-voter law. If you have a driver’s license, you are registered to vote unless you choose to opt out. We also have gone completely to a vote by mail system, so there is no room for intimidation at the polls. They are mailed out at least a month ahead of the election, so early voting is not a problem. You can mail them in, or drop at Librarys accross the state by 8:00 on election day. Fraud is nearly non existant, as signatures on envelopes are checked.

  2. The article says that 70% of African-Americans utilize early voting, but failed to mention how many European-Americans (i.e., white) also utilized the option. This report is biased, too. I live in a midnight-blue state (CT), and yet we are required to show an ID – either driver’s license or state-issued non-driver’s identification card – in order to vote. No one is complaining about us. We have no process for voting early, and absentee ballots are limited to a few acceptable reasons. We vote on Voting Day or we don’t vote. Half our DMV offices have also been closed in the past year. Thank god we have AAA offices in which to conduct much of the business of the DMV, otherwise we’d really be in a pickle. We also have to show our ID to buy cigarettes and liquor, yet no one calls this discrimination. Could it be because our governor and our legislature are all Democrats? This is nothing but political posturing, and I hope that anyone with half a brain can see through it.

  3. Voting should be easy. Just produce a valid birth certificate, other valid ID to prove you are a citizen with an address in that district. You buy cigarettes without an ID but you can elect a president?

  4. Voting should be made easier not more difficult. Election turn outs are already dismal we don’t need to make them worse. I was a long time resident of Alabama, and am now a recent resident of North Carolina. I would like to see both states encouraging people to vote and not target ethnic groups from registering to vote. Early voting makes voting more convenient and accountable, this should be encouraged not restricted.

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