North Carolina Republicans, engaged in an extraordinary months-long attack on ordinary North Carolinians, turned their attention yesterday to trying to cover their tracks and hold themselves less accountable to those to whom they done the most damage. How? By teeing up the most sweeping voter suppression bill in the country.
Two years ago, Republicans in the state legislature tried to pass a Voter ID law to restrict the franchise. But then governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed that bill. Republicans also had to tread at least a little lightly, lest their proposals trigger scrutiny under the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Since then, the right-wing majority on the Court has, of course, gutted those provisions. And with a Republican now in the governor's mansion in Raleigh, the gloves are off.
Among the more noteworthy provisions in the new bill, which will likely be approved today on its way to the governor's signature:
- reducing early voting by one week. A majority of voters in North Carolina cast early ballots in November, and those who do so are disproportionately minority voters. That's a theme we will keep coming back to. Republicans claim they are saving money by doing so, or something. I think the total savings come to roughly 12 dollars and 83 cents. Of course, it's a laughable proposition that NC Republicans give a crap about saving money.
- require valid photo ID in order to vote. It is estimated that perhaps more than half a million registered voters in North Carolina lack valid ID. Some will get them. Plenty won't. Voters without valid photo ID are disproportionately African American -- one third, in a state where Blacks make up a bit over 20 percent of all registered voters. Did I mention that we will keep coming back to that? Republicans insist that such measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud. In the past 12 years in North Carolina, 21 million votes have been cast. And according to the State Board of Elections, there has been one case -- that's one -- of in-person voter fraud. The State BOE estimates that perhaps 100 cases of voter fraud of any kind might have been prevented by a Voter ID requirement during that time.
- elimination of same-day registration. Approximately 100,000 voters took advantage of this option in North Carolina in 2012, again disproportionately minority and Democratic voters.
- elimination of arrangements allowing 16- and 17-year-olds, when they get their driver's licenses, to pre-register. You have to see to believe this incredible exchange between the heroic state Senator Josh Stein -- a Democrat who has worked tirelessly to challenge the GOP agenda -- and GOP state senator Bob Rucho, who claims that the old system was "confusing," using his own son as an example. The key line: Stein asks whether Rucho's son was confused about whether he was 17 years old last election day. Another provision eliminates the mandate for high school voter registration drives.
- elimination of straight party-ticket voting, which Democrats use more than Republicans (North Carolina has substantially more registered Democrats than Republicans).
- especially laughable about the claim that the GOP's goal is clarity and transparency in election processes is that other provisions of the law both increase the legal limit for campaign contributions and decrease the disclosure requirements for donors. So -- more big money, less transparency.
- a series of provisions that will make it much easier for individuals to challenge ballots. You can be sure that this deliberate effort to sow mischief and chaos on election day will happen disproportionately in voting precincts with large concentrations of minority voters. The GOP is covering all of its bases on this one. Under the new law, you can challenge ballots outside your own precinct. And the new law also prevents precincts from holding voting for an extra hour to deal with contingencies like especially long lines or other problems with the voting process. In other words, the state GOP has just given those interested in disrupting minority voting all the tools necessary to do so successfully.
With 40 of North Carolina's 100 counties covered under the now defunct Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the above measures could not have gone into effect in those counties without prior Department of Justice approval. But absent Section 4, Republicans in North Carolina, as elsewhere, have carte blanche to do that which the Supreme Court's right-wing majority insisted was no longer a problem in America -- pass obviously racially discriminatory voting restrictions.
Voting integrity, savings, transparency and free speech -- these are the nonsense arguments GOP lawmakers are using to rationalize voter suppression. Like everything else this legislative session, NC Republicans are simply making stuff up to justify their extreme priorities. They argued that rejecting Medicaid expansion was necessary for reasons of fiscal prudence. But Medicaid expansion would have saved the state money -- in addition to lives -- and the GOP's budget costs it more. They rammed through a bill restricting women's access to legal, safe abortions in the name of women's health, when the legislation is more likely to undermine it. They just passed a tax package that really only benefits the very wealthy and corporations, insisting for months that everyone would benefit until their own researchers said -- oops -- only the very wealthy and corporations would meaningfully benefit.
Governor McCrory -- whose been very much a follower, not a leader in this process -- can't even keep his petty lies straight. He recently insisted that he'd mingled among the Moral Monday protesters (and been "cussed at," heaven forfend). When it was pointed out that there was not a single extant photo of what would obviously have been a highly photo-worthy event, his office later released a statement saying, no, no, he meant merely that when he walks from the governor's mansion to the state legislature, he encounters people who disagree with him. Whatever gets you through the day, Governor.
In order to minimize the political consequences of enacting a broadly unpopular agenda North Carolina Republicans have reached a new low -- restrict the franchise, particularly to suppress minority voting. All in the name of freedom and democracy, of course.
(NC Policy Watch, a progressive think tank, is an invaluable source of information and analysis on North Carolina politics).