Lawsuits Fly as North Carolina Eviscerates State Voting Rights

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Common Dreams

Lawsuits Fly as North Carolina Eviscerates State Voting Rights

'Taken together, this is the worst voter suppression law in the country. It viciously targets nearly every aspect of the voting process.'

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Calling it both racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, advocates for civil liberties and voting rights responded almost immediately with lawsuits in North Carolina on Monday following Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's signing of a sweeping new law that abbreviates early voting and demands all voters have a picture ID in order to cast a ballot in the state.

McCrory approved the bill without the fanfare of a public signing and no press was allowed. The governor defended the new restrictions as necessary to prevent "voter fraud," though all evidence suggests that the rightwing's "voter fraud" scaremongering is simply a tactic to disenfranchise huge swaths of mostly Democratic voters who tend to be either younger, poorer, older, African-American, or Latino.

"It is a trampling on the blood, sweat and tears of the martyrs — black and white — who fought for voting rights in this country," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, which, along with a group called the Advancement Project, initiated one of three lawsuits against the new voting rules.

“Each of the law’s changes, on their own, would be harmful to the voting rights of North Carolinians,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project. “Taken together, this is the worst voter suppression law in the country. It viciously targets nearly every aspect of the voting process.”

"It puts McCrory on the wrong side of history," add Barber, who has been leading a grassroots movement known as Moral Mondays for more than two months against the conservative government that has pushed an extreme regressive agenda on numerous issues since taking full power in the capitol after McCrory's election in 2012.

As the The Nation's Ari Berman reports:

The lawsuit brought by the [two groups] alleges that the law violates Section 2 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments because it “imposes unjustified and discriminatory electoral burdens on large segments of the state’s population and will cause the denial, dilution, and abridgement of African-Americans’ fundamental right to vote.” It alleges that five provisions of the law disproportionately impact African-American voters—the voter ID requirement, the cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the refusal to count out-of-precinct provisional ballots, and the increase in the number of poll watchers.

African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 30 percent of those who cast out-of-precinct ballots, 34 percent of the 318,000 registered voters without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration. “A staggering 70 percent of African-American voters who voted in the 2012 general election used early voting,” the lawsuit notes. It says that “race was a motivating factor in the law’s enactment” and that “the General Assembly enacted those provisions with knowledge and intent that such actions would affect African-American voters disproportionately.”

As the Assoicated Press points out, North Carolina's passage of new voting restrictions was made possible by a Supreme Court ruling on the federal Voting Rights Act earlier this year:

North Carolina is among a number of states with GOP strongholds that have passed stricter voter identification laws, redrawn political maps fortifying Republican majorities and reduced early voting under President Barack Obama.

Such states claimed victory after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in June, effectively wiped out part of the landmark Voting Rights Act that required federal "preclearance" of election-law changes in all or parts of 15 mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination. The law was enacted during the 1960s to outlaw racial discrimination against voters.

In addition to the NAACP and Advancement Project, notes Berman, a "separate lawsuit" was also filed on Monday to challenge the law:

Brought by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the ACLU on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the A. Philip Randolph Institute [it] alleges that the elimination of same-day registration, the cuts to early voting and the ban on out-of-precinct provisional ballots violate Section 2 of the VRA and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of their disparate racial impact.

"This law is a disaster. Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens and turn Election Day into mess, shoving more and more voters into even longer lines," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election, and we all know how that turned out – voters standing in line for hours, some having to wait until after the president's acceptance speech to finally vote, and hundreds of thousands giving up in frustration. Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters in Florida, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."

"This law is a blatant attempt to make it harder for and dissuade many North Carolinians from registering and casting a ballot," added Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina. "As we have seen in other states, drastic cuts to early voting hours will result in longer lines and have a disproportionate impact on our state's most marginalized citizens, especially the low-income, elderly, and disabled who rely on early voting."

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