The avalanche of voter suppression laws over the last few election cycles has been met with court injunctions, voter rejection and -- when enacted -- long lines at voting precincts. Nevertheless, conservative legislatures are continuing the onslaught of ways to make voting more difficult.
North Carolina is one of the latest examples of this effort, where Republicans are attempting to pass bills that would require voter ID at the polls, reduce early voting hours and eliminate same day voter registration. A voter ID bill that would require a government issued ID in order to vote beginning in 2016 has already passed the state House, and will likely breeze through the Republican-controlled state Senate and be signed by Governor Pat McCrory. A separate bill would reduce early voting from 17 days to 10 days, eliminating voting on Sundays and same-day voter registration.
Both pieces of legislation will make voting a nightmare in the state -- particularly for college students and areas with large populations. The voter ID bill would qualify public college student IDs as legitimate identification, but private college students IDs would not be valid. The second bill would further force students to register at a parent's home by stripping parents of the $2500 tax exemption for dependent children if their student registers anywhere else.
The components targeting college students are hauntingly similar to GOP suppression moves in other states. In Ohio, the Republican budget includes an item that requires colleges and universities to give in-state tuition to any student who registers to vote in Ohio, making it economically unfeasible for these schools to consider all students for in-state tuition. In New
Hampshire, legislators in the GOP-controlled state Senate are trying to eliminate student IDs as an acceptable form of identification
to use at the polls. This comes after a GOP-controlled state legislature in 2011 attempted to require students who wanted to vote in New Hampshire to
pledge that they would stay in state after graduation and register their vehicles in New Hampshire.
And as we saw in 2012, early voting is becoming a necessity in states with large populations. Cuts in state and local budgets, lengthy ballots along with
increases in voting age population has made it almost impossible to run elections where all voters cast a ballot in person on Election Day. In
, where Governor Rick Scott reduced early voting from 14 to 8 days, there were wait times up to 8 hours. Polling locations remained open 2- 3 extra hours
with one polling location in Lee County remaining open for an additional 8 hours after closing time. Voter backlash from these unconscionable long lines
are forcing the GOP controlled legislature to re-instate up to 14 days of early voting. Ohio State University professor
, analyzing data compiled by the Orlando Sentinel, estimated last week that at least 201,000 voters likely gave up on voting due to the long lines
and wait times.
Since the passage of early voting in North Carolina, turnout and the number of people using early voting has continued to increase. In the 2012
Presidential election, 56% of the votes cast in North Carolina were cast during the early
vote period. The supervisor of elections in Leon County, Florida
came to testify before the House Elections Committee in North Carolina
and told them that cutting down on early vote days and times in Florida was "a nightmare." And what was the response of the bill's sponsor and Republican
Majority Leader Edgar Starnes? "My attempt was not to deny anyone the right to vote. It was just to make the process work efficiently," Starnes said. "I
was frankly just surprised that the blacks took it as an attempt to suppress their vote because that was never my intent at all."
You can't make this stuff up. Limiting early vote times will make elections more efficient?
North Carolina is following in Florida's footsteps, where legislators admittedly say they passed stricter voting laws to ensure conservatives could keep
their seats. The partisan lens through which Republican elected officials are dealing with election law is chilling. From New Hampshire to Ohio, to North
Carolina and beyond, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier to participate in our democracy - but we aren't.
It's important that we not let voter suppression efforts like the one in North Carolina become law. Even though conservatives have a stranglehold on state
government in places like Ohio and North Carolina, public sentiment is a still a powerful weapon. Elected officials should be ashamed to be considering
these kinds of election changes, but they won't feel compelled to change their minds unless their constituents make their voices heard.
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