North Carolina's Monster Voting Bill: A tale of voter suppression

by Amy Tiemann

A white Republican challenging black students' right to vote has a 97% success rate at removing these young minority voters from the rolls. Is that what we want for North Carolina?

It is starting to sink in that North Carolina's new voting laws go way beyond voter I. D.--which is problematic in itself--and lead straight into voter suppression. Now the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state for alleged racial discrimination in the laws. We thought era of poll taxes and bogus literacy tests was over in North Carolina, but now it looks like Justice Department intervention is necessary to keep our moderate Southern state from tumbling into new era of voter suppression.

As the Raleigh News & Observer editorial said today:

After that [Jim Crow era] period of voting restrictions, North Carolina developed a system that encouraged voting by all. It adopted early voting, same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-years-olds and did not require that voters present a photo ID. As a result, North Carolina rose from the bottom 12 states for voter turnout during all of the 20th century to 22nd in 2008 and 11th in 2012, a modern record high for North Carolina.

That election process was good enough to sweep Republicans into large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and to elect the first Republican governor in 20 years, but Republicans worried that it was too good to keep them there. They sought ways to make voting harder for groups that disproportionately vote Democratic, and they wrapped every gambit into a bill that Gov. Pat McCrory signed, saying it was all about 'common sense' safeguards to protect the election process.

I wanted to highlight one cautionary tale that came up this spring and summer. Richard Gilbert is the Chair of the GOP in Pasquotank County, NC. He made big news this summer when The Rachel Maddow Show came to NC and shined her media spotlight on Gilbert and his efforts to kick college students off the voting rolls at one of the nearby schools. He challenged 59 student voters at Elizabeth City State University, a historically-black college founded to train teachers. Gilbert has never brought residency challenges against students at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, a predominantly white college also located in Elizabeth City.

What I didn't realize until recently is that Gilbert has an astonishing success, as reported by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, via The Progressive Pulse: of the 59 students whom Gilbert challenged, only three appeared before the Board of Elections hearing. These three students had legal representation from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Two of the students were allowed to stay on the rolls, and one of them voluntarily cancelled her registration. So with his 59 challenges, Richard Gilbert had a 97% success rate in having black students removed from the voter rolls. If that is not racial discrimination, I don't know what is. Imagine the barriers set up for those challenged students, having to come to an 8-hour Board of Elections hearing, ideally with legal representation. The Board of Elections also took students’ failure to appear as “evidence of conduct” that they do not intend to be domiciled where they are registered to vote, which seems very unfair. These challenges could have been factually baseless yet practically effective nonetheless, since only 5% of the challenged students were able to participate in the hearing.

This is exactly the sort of interference that must be stopped. Similar tactics could be used to challenge elderly people, poor people, and others who don't have the time or resources to mount legal challenges to their voter registration. And, these tactics and others such as election day poll observers (which will also be allowed now in increased numbers) an create a discouraging atmosphere of intimidation. For every challenge, obstacle, or barrier put in the path of voters, how many people will not even show up on election day, or will not be able to wait in long lines to vote? Florida's election debacles serve as a cautionary tale of what not to do, and yet North Carolina is following down the path of shortening Early Voting just as Florida did.

What is especially scary is that when Richard Gilbert challenged the candidacy of Elizabeth City State College student Montravius King, who was running for city council, Sue Myrick of the conservative John W. Pope Citivas Institute found time in her schedule to attend the meeting. Civitas seems to be studying Gilbert's tactics, and Gilbert himself says he is ready to "take this show on the road."

Fortunately, Montravius King prevailed in his defense of his residency requirement, which has huge implications for students' rights to vote as well as run for elected office. But you can be sure that these challenges will continue.

Attorney General Holder, welcome to North Carolina. We're need all the legal firepower we can get to restore equal voting rights to our citizens!

Comments

It's a travesty

And it's one issue that's worth fighting, even if the outcome fails to solve the problem. These voices deserve to be heard.