The state of North Carolina is finally about to face a federal judge over its passage of what has been deemed the harshest voter suppression law in the nation – one of nearly 30 voter suppression laws passed since the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in 2013. As that legal fight unfolds, starting this week people are being mobilized for demonstrations to demand change.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Thursday is hosting a Rally For Voting Rights and Our Democracy in Roanoke, Va., to urge congressional action to restore the provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down. (RSVP to attend and sign the petition for Congress to take action.)
Roanoke is the home of Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Pending before the committee is the Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore and update the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with a past record of voter suppression to have voting law changes reviewed first by a federal court to ensure they do not result in denying or abridging the right to vote based on race, skin color or language. Goodlatte has refused to even schedule a hearing for the legislation, declaring the legislation is not “necessary” to protect voting rights. The millions of Americans who have faced new barriers to voting say otherwise.
Rep. George Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, also disagrees. “I am deeply troubled that Goodlatte doesn’t think it is necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act,” he said in a recent statement. “If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand – one in which they are on the wrong side of.”
This movement will meet again on July 13, when a Mass Voting Rights March will be held in Winston-Salem, N.C., on the same day the U.S. District Court begins hearing the N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory voting rights case.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, describes the rally as “a symbol of resistance and hope…[where] people come together across racial lines to say, ‘We’re not going backwards, we are standing together.’”
The North Carolina law “spreads confusion and intimidation,” said Hall. “Its message is clear: voting is not for you. You are not wanted.”
A recently released publication from the organization profiles 2,000 cases of voter suppression in the 2014 midterm election, which Hall describes as “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ironically abbreviated as VIVA, the Voter Information and Verification Act has more accurately been called the “Screw the Voter Act of 2013” and the “Longer Lines to Vote Bill.” Its many provisions include a strict voter ID requirement that excludes student IDs, a shortened early voting period, an end to same-day voter registration, an increased number of poll observers who can challenge voter eligibility, elimination of pre-registration campaigns for high school students, an end to straight-ticket voting, and voiding of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
The bill also includes several provisions that weaken campaign finance and disclosure laws, ensuring that elections in the state are rigged and undemocratic.
VIVA is one of many voter suppression and restriction laws passed in nearly two dozen states since the Supreme Court invalidated much of the Voting Rights Act two years ago. These laws are disproportionately in states with large African-American and Latino populations. They also disproportionately affect low-income citizens.
According to a study by Democracy North Carolina, the bill disenfranchises 318,000 of the state’s citizens who don’t have registered voter ID cards. It will prevent from voting the nearly 100,000 people who use same-day registration each presidential election. It will also significantly burden the 2.5 million early voters – over half the electorate – who now face reduced voting windows and increased voting restrictions.
It also discriminates against African Americans, who comprise 23 percent of the population but 28 percent of early voters, 33 percent of same-day registration voters, and 34 percent of citizens lacking voter IDs.
As Anita Earls, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, put it, “This new law revives everything we have fought against for the past 10 years and eliminates everything we fought for.”
During Virginia’s hotly contested 2014 Senate race, a strict new voter ID requirement meant that 198,000 active voters did not have an acceptable ID, and the Brennan Center estimated that translated to more than 50,000 people being unable to vote. That followed a Republican-orchestrated voter purge just before the 2013 gubernatorial election of 38,000 people from the rolls, thousands of whom were later found to be eligible voters.
Virginia is also being sued in federal court over its voting rules. “The General Assembly, in enacting the voter ID law and failing to take action to prevent long wait times to vote from recurring, intended, at least in part, to suppress the number of votes cast by African Americans and Latinos,” the suit states, according to the Newport News, Va.-based Daily Press.
We’ve seen these attacks on voting rights before. In fact, they fit perfectly into America’s long and controversial history of restricting and suppressing voting from “undesirable” populations. Every step in the right direction – a constitutional amendment, a court case, a voter expansion bill – has been followed by local government and vigilante resistance to prevent the “wrong” Americans from voting.
People are standing up in Virginia and North Carolina and saying, “Enough is enough.”
Over the past two years, more than 900 North Carolina citizens have been arrested for peacefully protesting in the state capitol to protect voting rights. A “fusion movement” of white and black, poor and rich, is banding together in North Carolina and across the South to fight these new voter restriction laws.
What happens in North Carolina will have enormous implications for voting rights across the nation. Everyone who cherishes their voting rights and cares about defending American Democracy should show their support by joining the rallies in Roanoke and Winston-Salem, and petitioning Congress for change.