July 31, 2013
Just after a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court relating to the Voter Rights Act, the Republican-led North Carolina Legislature has approved some of the nation’s most sweeping new voting regulations.
North Carolina Republicans said the Restore Confidence in Government Act would combat voter fraud and ensure integrity in polling places, but they did not offer evidence of widespread voter fraud. Civil rights groups and many independent election analysts said the bill was designed to discourage voting by groups that tend to favor Democrats.
The voter ID law passed during the final hours of the state’s legislative session Thursday night would require voters to show government-issued ID cards.
The bill reduces the days of early voting by a week.
The bill eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting.
The bill allows any registered voter to challenge another voter’s eligibility and eliminates pre-registration initiatives found at high schools.
The bill also would end straight-ticket voting, the practice of voting for every candidate of a single party, begun in 1925 and popular among Democratic voters.
The bill would prohibit counties from extending voting hours on election day in response to long lines.
The measure passed hours after U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department would challenge a similar voter ID law in Texas.
“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights” after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Holder said. “But it will not be our last.”
The North Carolina chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People has called the legislation “new voter suppression tactics … a poll tax dressed up in new clothes.”
At a press conference, State House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, said: “This common-sense legislation responds to the majority of citizens who desire a fair and accountable election system.”
Activists disagree. The Rev. Gaye Brown of Elkin said the new law is really designed to keep voters away.
“I dont know the thinking behind making the new law so restrictive. Obviously you have to have some paramators with voting, but this is such a harsh step. It impacts all demographics, especially the elderly.
Angeline Echeverría, executive director of El Pueblo, Inc., an organization bringing forward the voices of NC Latinos to pursue a collective advancement of social justice and political power through civic engagement, said that their non-profit is expected to release detailed data relating to the impact of the bill.
“It’s not going to be good news,” said Echeverría.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act required Justice Department “pre-clearance” for any voting procedure changes in 40 North Carolina counties guilty of discrimination against black voters in the past.
Surry County, Yadkin, and Wilkes are not listed in the counties under pre-clearance.
By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court last month essentially overturned the pre-clearance requirement, which had covered nine states and parts of several others, mostly in the South.
The voter ID bill, along with a measure imposing abortion restrictions that also passed this week, is among a series of conservative bills passed by North Carolina Republicans this year.