Will Republicans Suffer Voter ID Backlash In North Carolina?

Bill Scher

In 2012, Republican state legislators scrambled to pass Voter ID laws in hopes of suppressing Democratic turnout. As I noted earlier this year in a Daily Caller essay, the strategy “backfired … serving only to goad minority voters into making an extra effort to show up. In turn, the 2013 RNC-commissioned ‘autopsy’ implicitly counseled the party to give it up: ‘This trend in early, absentee, and online voting is here to stay. Republicans must alter their strategy and acknowledge the trend as future reality.'”

Republicans by and large have ignored the RNC’s warning and continue to defend restrictive voting laws. And two months ago, when Sen. Rand Paul tried to get his party to let it go — telling the New York Times “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people,” — outrage from fellow Republicans (and future 2016 presidential primary voters) forced Paul to backtrack.

Already this year Republicans received another warning at the ballot box that Voter ID laws are failing to suppress the black vote. In Mississippi, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran was able to survive a right-wing primary challenge by enticing traditionally Democratic black voters to participate in the Republican primary. He was not thwarted by the state’s brand new Voter ID law.

In November, another test looms in North Carolina.

In the previous decade, the swing state had embarked on a liberalization of its voting requirements, even embracing same-day registration. The increase in voter participation is credited with delivering the state to Barack Obama in 2008.

But right-wing Republicans took control of the North Carolina government in the 2010 elections, and quickly passed legislation that undid everything. As the American Prospect reported, “In a single bill, lawmakers eliminated same-day registration, youth preregistration and out-of-precinct voting, and reduced the number of days of early voting. They required voters to show government-issued photo identification starting in 2016; student ID cards from state universities won’t be honored.” While the voter ID component isn’t fully in effect this year, the Washington Times noted that for 2014, “voters will only be asked if they have an ID but they don’t have to answer yes or produce an ID in order to cast a ballot. Critics say the question is still enough to discourage minorities from voting.”

Republicans proud of their voter suppression achievement may reconsider after seeing the backlash they have created, which major grassroots efforts in place to help North Carolina minority voters overcome the law’s hurdles.

As Politico reported earlier this week, “The voter participation project RuralVotes is leading an effort in North Carolina to boost turnout among nearly half of the more than 300,000 voters who live in harder-to-reach areas by informing of them of the state’s new voter-identification laws. … RuralVotes president Deb Kozikowski … pointed to a study conducted by turnout expert Donald Green … [that found] ‘informing low-propensity voters of a new identification requirement raises turnout by approximately one percentage point.'”

And the celebrated Moral Mondays movement is fighting the law on two fronts, seeking to overturn it in the courtroom (a federal judge will rule in “several weeks” whether to block implementation of the law, according to NPR, with a broader ruling expected next year) and embarking on a massive voter registration and mobilization program called Moral Freedom Summer, tapping 34 community organizers with a goal of registering 50,000 new voters.

With polls suggesting a dead heat race for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Kay Hagan, these grassroots efforts could determine the outcome. And with the control of the Senate up for grabs, this one seat could determine which party holds the gavel.

Republicans now face a lose-lose scenario.

If the voter mobilization comes up short, the Republican victory may prove pyrrhic, with accusations that they won only by suppressing the vote, stoking more furious backlash in 2016 when minority turnout will likely be higher.

But if these energetic voter mobilization efforts overcomes the GOP voter suppression scheme, as similar ones did in 2012, the RNC may have to conduct another autopsy.

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