Archived Opinion

This state’s GOP has violated the Voting Rights Act

op frBy Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Even authoritarian regimes like Russia’s pretend to respect the right to vote. The contrast with authentic democracies is defined by these factors: the ease or difficulty of actually casting a vote, how honestly it is counted, and whether it even matters.

Democracy in North Carolina is failing miserably on two of them.

First, the Republican majority in Raleigh rigged the voting districts to guarantee their control of the General Assembly even before the people’s votes are cast and counted. The parties are contesting barely half the seats this year. Nearly a third are entirely unopposed.


Next, the regime did everything it could — short of cancelling elections — to allow fewer votes to be cast for the other party.

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It did so in ways that flagrantly violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

The evidence to convict the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory is contained in the state’s own voter database of registrations and actual turnout.

In a detailed analysis of the data, professors Daniel A. Smith of the University of Florida and Michael C. Herron of Dartmouth document four ways in which the cunningly titled “Voter Information and Verification Act” (VIVA for short) targets minority voters.

• In four of the five most recent statewide elections, early voters tended to be disproportionately black. In the last two presidential elections, slightly more than half the votes were cast early, but that trend among blacks was even more significant, especially on weekends.

VIVA reduces early voting days from 17 to 10. It purports to maintain the same total number of hours, but allows election boards to cut those also, as nearly a third of the counties already have done for the forthcoming primaries. 

• Black voters have also been more likely than whites to take advantage of same-day registration during early voting. The 2013 law repeals that. Individuals who have not registered by the 25th day before an election are barred from voting.  

• Blacks are significantly less likely to have the drivers’ licenses or other specified forms of identification the law requires effective with the 2016 election. Although blacks account for only 22 percent of the voter base, they account for at least 31 percent of voters without state-issued photo IDs.

• Black voters tend to be younger than white voters, putting a racial spin on the law’s provision waiving current ID requirements only for older voters with expired licenses.

These uncomfortable facts prove that in scheming to suppress votes for Democrats, the GOP bosses devised rules that significantly reduce the present ability of black voters to elect candidates of their choice.

Whether they intended that result is beside the point; the Federal Voting Rights Act still forbids any such effect.

Any fair-minded judge who considers the evidence will be honor-bound to strike down the North Carolina law. VIVA should be called the Voter Intimidation and Vilification Act.

(Martin A. Dyckman is a retired journalist who lives in Waynesville and is the author of several books on Florida politics, including Reubin O’D Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics; Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins; and A Most Disorderly Court: Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary.)

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