People from across the nation will converge on Winston-Salem, N.C. this coming Monday to march for voting rights in the state that has come to symbolize voter suppression. “North Carolina is our Selma” is the rallying cry.
North Carolina is the worst of nearly two dozen states that have passed voter suppression laws in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act. This march will coincide with the beginning of the federal trial against North Carolina’s voting law, N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory. (See the official march website for more information and logistics of the march.)
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has led the fight for voting rights with weekly Moral Monday marches. Over the past two years, tens of thousands of people have taken part in over 200 events across the state. 1,000 people have been arrested for peaceful demonstrations in the state capitol.
Barber equates the current fight against a string of voting restriction laws with the fight for voting rights in the 1960s. “We know that in a democracy, protection of voting rights must be at the center of that democracy, or you do not have a democracy,” Barber said at the N.C. NAACP press conference announcing the lawsuit. “Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina legislature, they are committing a crime against democracy and our most sacred constitutional value.”
Richard Hasen, one of the country’s leading experts on electoral law, described the bill as “probably the most suppressive voting measure passed in the United States in decades.”
In addition to implementing the harshest voter ID law in the nation, the bill ends same-day registration, limits early voting, ends Sunday voting, allows any citizen to challenge voter eligibility, eliminates public financing for elections, eliminates pre-registration for 16- and 17 year-olds, and ends single-ticket voting, among other provisions.
The federal court complaint claims the law unconstitutionally burdens voting, causes intentional discrimination, and constitutes a violation of both Section II of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. It reads in part, “This lawsuit seeks to protect and preserve the voting rights of North Carolina citizens—rights imperiled by the passage of new legislation that imposes unjustified and discriminatory electoral burdens on large segments of the state’s population and will cause the denial, dilution, and abridgement of African-Americans’ fundamental right to vote.”
After feeling the heat from both the pending court case and the many citizens who have spoken out against the law, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature backtracked by passing a law that will allow voters who don’t have voter IDs to vote in the 2016 election.
Despite the change, there is still “an enormous amount of evidence that…voters are being disenfranchised” said Allison Riggs, a Senior Attorney for Voting Rights from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who has been active in the case. The last-minute reversal “won’t have a huge effect” on the federal case due to the breadth of the law.
“Let me be clear,” Rev. Barber said at the N.C. NAACP press conference announcing the lawsuit, “This bill is not about Voter I.D. It is 57 pages of regressive, unconstitutional acts to rig and manipulate elections through voter suppression.”
A recent report by Democracy North Carolina profiles over 2,000 cases of voter suppression in the 2014 election, and estimates that the new restrictions reduced turnout by at least 30,000 voters. The restrictions also disproportionately target African Americans, who are more likely to utilize same-day registration and early voting. Additionally, a recent Harvard Law School report found that voter IDs typically cost between $75 and $175 to obtain, constituting a modern-day poll tax.
Riggs is confident of the trial’s prospects in district court, and believes the case will likely advance to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court and possibly beyond. But as the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, it is equally important that we keep up the pressure on legislatures to protect and expand access to the ballot box.
Melanie Campbell, President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, believes the consistency of these protests is the key to success. “North Carolina has lost ground as a progressive state in recent years. I believe that the Moral Mondays and the marches are great organizing tools to help reverse this trend.”
Over the past two years, however, Rev. Barber and others have built a coalition movement through weekly rallies and events. That coalition was out in force in Roanoke, Virginia two weeks ago. Over 400 people from labor, environmental, civil rights, and social justice movements came together to urge Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to hold a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore power to the Voting Rights Act.
“It is basic to democracy that people show up and speak up to make their voices heard,” said Mary Klenz, co-president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and one of the chief plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Many voices, speaking together, make a powerful statement that this matters and we care about it.”
Come to the rally, and be a part of this generation’s Selma.
This post has been updated to correct a quote from Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.