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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 13:24

New voting law doesn’t pass the smell test

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op frThe photo ID requirements included in the new voting law passed by the General Assembly and recently signed by Gov. Pat McCrory are problematic. Still, if it was just a voter ID law there wouldn’t be so much hell being raised about the bill’s ramifications. It’s the other voter suppression measures in this over-reaching bill that have many scratching their heads and wondering just what’s going on.

As most anyone who follows public policy in this country knows, voter ID laws — a requirement that every person have a state-approved photo identification card before being allowed to cast a vote — are being passed in many states and are very controversial.

 

Many contend they disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, those barely literate and even the young. Supporters argue they will reduce voter fraud. The tipping point of the debate is whether the scales are weighted too heavily one way or the other — do the new laws actually prevent legal voting, thereby taking away a constitutional right; or do they restore confidence in the voting process, thereby upholding the constitution.

That fight will roil on, but the fact that this is a constitutional issue makes the debate fundamentally important. Supporters of voter ID laws say you won’t have to have any more ID to vote than if you were boarding an airplane or getting a prescription filled. But making purchases is not a constitutional right. In my mind, I shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to vote, to express my opinion, or to be insured that my habeas corpus rights won’t be taken away. 

That said, I think eventually we’ll come around on the ID requirement and develop a procedure that is at least palatable and reasonable. 

But here’s a short list of the parts of the bill that smell so much like voter suppression in favor of the GOP that it’s almost laughable.

The law eliminates a week off early voting in the state (used by up to 70 percent of African American voters in 2012) and barred local election boards from keeping the polls open on the final Saturday before the election after 1 p.m. It also eliminated same-day voter registration and a program that pre-registered high school students to vote, which had added 160,000 youths to the voting rolls. It also eliminated straight-ticket voting.

In 2008, North Carolina led the country in the percentage increase in voter turnout, and that included a record turnout of African Americans and young people. And about 75 percent of those voters supported Democrats. So I guess the reasoning is that if you can’t win those voters through your ideas, why not just make it harder for them to cast a vote.

The law places tough new rules for voting on the state’s 300,000 college students. Their student ID is not sufficient to vote, so they’ll have to wait in the long lines at the DMV in order to get the new ID. And according to the DMV website, they’ll need four forms of ID. That’ll be tough for busy students, many of whom don’t even have cars.

And even if they get the ID, voting may still be more difficult. In Watauga County, one of the first moves by the newly installed GOP-led county board of elections was to close a polling place and early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University. They had to combine three precincts to do it, but what the heck. 

At Elizabeth City State University, a GOP-led election board is denying the residency of a student who wants to run for city council, declaring that a valid campus address is not sufficient residency. The appointed election board chair even wants to block on-campus students from voting. And he’s encouraging his cohorts across the state to do the same.

 “I plan to take this show on the road,” Pasquotank County GOP Chairman Pete Gilbert told the Associated Press.

Another measure in the new bill allows any registered voter in a precinct to challenge the validity of another voter’s credentials. This promises to gum up what will already be longer than usual lines due to the elimination of so much early voting. This could actually lead to fisticuffs depending on the manner in which such a challenge is handled and who is doing the challenging.

Finally, the new law says election precincts don’t have to stay open to accommodate those who are in line trying to vote come closing time. Since these are usually working people who can’t get off work early or those who have a hard time getting to the polls, this also seems like a direct attempt to stop certain groups from casting their ballots.

Taken in its entirety, it’s hard to see this new law as anything less than an attempt to drive down voter turnout among legal voters who are in the working-class, who are elderly, who are young, and who are poor. As one of my least-favorite football coaches often says, “It is what it is.” Indeed.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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