When the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voters Rights Act of 1965, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott tweeted just 20 minutes later “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections.”
This post originally appeared at Occupy Democrats
By Salvatore Aversa
Voter ID laws are still sweeping the country. When the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voters Rights Act of 1965, Texas attorney general/Governor candidate Greg Abbott tweeted just 20 minutes later “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections,” signaling the Voter ID law would go in to effect immediately.
Unless the law can be fought in the state court, Texas residents will now be forced to show state or federal issued IDs in order to cast a vote. One such form of acceptable ID is a concealed-handgun license, but not a state university ID. The omission not only indicated they are looking for more Republican voters, but also indicated a pushing away of more educated voters. If Abbott was concerned about voter fraud, why wouldn’t all forms of ID be acceptable?
Other states, including, but not limited to, Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are also looking to pass Voter ID laws to make it harder to vote. All have Republican controlled legislatures. The worst of the new laws, however, comes out of North Carolina.
As I have wrote about in the past, North Carolina has had the most drastic changes to their voter laws since the Supreme Court ruling.
1. Requiring state-issued photo ID to cast ballot. Over 7 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, 481,109 to be exact, don’t have a driver’s license or a state-issued photo ID, according to the state’s own data. Fifty-five percent of registered voters without photo ID are Democrats. African-Americans make up 22 percent of registered voters in the state, but a third of all registered voters without ID. Exit polling conducted by Southern Coalition for Social Justice in six counties in 2012 found that 8.8 percent of voters had no form of photo ID and that a majority of those who lacked any photo ID were African-American.
2. Cutting early voting. from two-and-a-half weeks to just one week and would eliminate voting on the last Sunday of early voting, when African-American churches hold “Souls to the Polls” get-out-the-vote drives. The legislation would also limit early voting locations to one site per county, which is a recipe for much longer lines. In Charlotte’s Mecklenburg County, for example, there were 22 early voting locations in 2012. Fifty-six percent of North Carolinians voted early during the 2012 election. Blacks used early voting at a higher rate than whites, comprising a majority of those who voted absentee or early. According to Public Policy Polling, 78 percent of North Carolinians support the current early voting system and 75 percent have used it in the past.
3. Ending same day registration during early voting. Over 155,000 voters registered to vote and voted on the same day during the early voting period in 2012. “Voters expressed their satisfaction and gratitude that North Carolina had a process that afforded citizens with more opportunities to register and vote,” said a 2009 report from the state board of elections.
4. Penalizing parents of students who register to vote where they go to college. The most extreme proposal of all the new voting restrictions would eliminate the $2,500 child dependency tax deduction for parents of college students who vote where they attend school. “This would mean that voter drives, marches to the polls (i.e. anything that inspires a young person to exercise their constitutional right in their college town) will carry a hefty tax penalty for their parents,” writes Rob Schofield, policy director of NC Policy Watch. This harsh penalty for student political activity is likely unconstitutional.
5. Disenfranchising ex-felons. New legislation would prevent ex-felons from receiving their voting rights after serving their time and would instead force them to wait five years, apply to the board of elections and receive unanimous approval in order to re-enter the political process. “Approval depends on the unanimous consent of local board of elections members and two affidavits from local voters about your ‘upstanding moral character,’” writes Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina. Five times as many blacks as whites have a criminal record in North Carolina and could be disenfranchised for years under this new proposal.
6. Banning “incompetent” voters from the polls. Anyone given such a designation from the state will be unable to cast a ballot, “even if the person’s mental health issues have nothing to do with their abilities to understand voting,” writes Rob Schofield.
7. Ending straight-ticket voting. In 2012, 1.4 million Democrats and 1.1 million Republicans in North Carolina voted a straight-party ticket. Eliminating this convenient form of voting will likely hurt Democrats in down-ballot races.
State Representative David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina’s Research Triangle said, “It’s just an audacious attempt on the part of Republicans to suppress the vote, it’s just about as blatant as you can imagine. You do wonder how they felt they could get away with it.”
How they were able to get away with it, was by gerrymandering the state so minority areas, which historically vote Democratic, would become absorbed by Republican dominated districts. By controlling the Legislature and Governorship, Republicans have been able to go on an all out power grab.
“Some of the gems advanced recently in the legislature include an abortion bill tacked first onto an anti-Sharia law and then snuck in through a motorcycle safety law (new TRAP regulations may shutter all but one clinic in the state). Another bill forces all educators to teach seventh graders that abortion causes preterm birth (it doesn’t). Lawmakers also enacted legislation (described here and elsewhere as “the harshest unemployment insurance program cuts in our nation’s history”) that resulted in 70,000 North Carolina citizens losing their unemployment benefits. The state is one of the 15 to have refused Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. A proposed education bill would slash teacher compensation, (already ranked among the lowest in the nation), eliminate tenure, and use vouchers to reallocate $90 million of public-school funding to private schools (The school superintendent issued a statement this week saying that in light of the proposed deep cuts to the education budget “For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.”) Don’t forget the embarrassing proposed resolution allowing counties and cities to enshrine a state religion. Or the proposed ban on nipples.”
The worst of them, however, is the Voter ID bill. The North Carolina bill is expected to be challenged in court, and some provisions will be turned down.
Even the Libertarian Party in North Carolina is fed up with the Republicans power grab. “Republicans claim to be the party of limited government. Now we see what that term really means: when Republicans say limited government, they apparently mean government limited to them and their supporters.”
Seven million votes were cast in 2012 in North Carolina’s 2012 general and primary election. Of those, only 121 were identified as questionable, according to the state Board of Elections. Republicans love to point to ineligible voters, non-citizens trying to vote, false identity, or attempting to vote multiple times. This happens so infrequently, however, that to inconvenience all voters for a statistically insignificant number is impractical…unless you have an ulterior motive.
When Pennsylvania was developing their Voter ID law, a Republican was caught speaking exactly what their reasons were behind the bill.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” he said to applause at a Republican State Committee this weekend, according to PoliticsPa.com.
He was wrong, and President Obama went on to win Pennsylvania. And while the law was blocked prior to the election, an estimated 5% of Pennsylvania’s stayed home because of the confusion the bill caused. That could potentially be enough to swing a vote one way or another. The bill is still being heard by the state Supreme Court.
Just because the provision of the Voting Rights Act was rejected, does not mean that the fight is over.
“Last week the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a Texas case asking a federal court to require state officials to receive advance approval before making the Texas redistricting plan permanent citing the remaining sections of the VRA. The DOJ request falls under a different VRA clause than the one struck by the Supreme Court ruling. The federal government is also likely to take similar action in North Carolina and other states if Congress does not act.”
The White House is also expressing interest in which way to move forward with the Supreme Court ruling. President Obama and Eric Holder met with civil rights activists, voting rights activists, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and other state representatives from Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Holder assured those that the DoJ is ready to step in with potential civil and voting rights abuses.
Texas State Representative Martinez Fischer, a Democrat, sees a larger scheme in the Voter ID laws. “These things aren’t invented by Republican state law makers they are hatched in conservative laboratories and distributed across the country. This is the new electioneering. It’s not a contest about who can turn out the most voters, now it’s a combination of getting people to vote and Republicans trying to prevent people from voting.”
Instead of looking for ways to extend voting times, simplify registration, allowing online registration and voting, making voting day a national holiday, looking for alternative ways to vote, like over the internet, Republicans are looking for ways to make voting more restrictive. In this, Republicans are looking to stay as close to the founders as possible. Voting was for rich, white, male land owners at the signing of the Constitution. Republicans are continually looking for ways to drag us back to 1776. As they dangle teabags from their tri-corner hats, we are looking for what will advance us as a culture. We should be granting peoples rights, not trying to take them away. From voting to who we love. How can we truly be free, if we are constantly in fear of what rights will be taken away next.