By Cash Michaels
Special to NNPA from the Wilmington Journal
RALEIGH, N,C. – If there was any doubt about Republican confidence in staying in power in the North Carolina General Assembly, those doubts were dashed last week when the GOP passed what many observers say is the most restrictive law in the nation governing voter rights.
The North Carolina NAACP and others had been fighting the prospect of a voter photo ID requirement, something that state House Republicans, and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, said was needed to maintain the integrity of North Carolina’s election system, and combat voter fraud, even though voter fraud in the state has been virtually nonexistent.
Black leaders and Democrats, on the other hand, countered that the bill was just another GOP attempt at voter suppression, aimed specifically at the traditional Democratic base – African-Americans, Hispanics, college students, the elderly and the poor.
But in an apparent horse trade with House Republicans, the state Senate last week, during the final four days of the legislative session, shocked everyone by introducing a 57-page omnibus elections package that not only included a voter photo ID bill, but also:
- Eliminates seven days of early voting, same-day voter registration, ”Souls to the Polls” Sunday voting, provisional voting if you’re in the wrong precinct, straight-ticket voting and pre-voter registration of 16- and 17- year-olds;
- Authorizes vigilante poll watchers to challenge a citizen’s right to vote in any jurisdiction in the state;
- Prevents a county from adding one hour to the time for citizens to vote on Election Day if lines get long;
- Eliminates a requirement that campaign ads must be endorsed by candidates and increases contribution limits to $5,000;
- Lifts corporate campaign contribution limits and
- Prevents college students from using their college ID’s to vote.
Only three of the 57-page omnibus elections measure actually addressed voter ID’s. The Republican-majority in the Senate passed the bill 33-14 before sending it to the GOP-led House, where it passed 74- 41. Gov. McCrory indicated in a press conference afterwards that while he hadn’t read the whole bill, he would sign it into law.
House Democrats – Black and White, were livid.
“I want you to understand what this bill means to people,” veteran Black lawmaker, Rep. H. M. “Mickey” Michaux, told his GOP colleagues. “We have fought for, died for and struggled for our right to vote. You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of hell for all eternity.”
House Republicans replied that every provision in the elections bill protected North Carolina voters, and streamlined the system, but Democrats weren’t buying it.
“What does [stopping Souls to the Polls Sunday voting] have to do with voter ID?” asked state Rep. Garland Pierce, chairman of the North Carlina Legislative Black Caucus, reminding all the Black churches traditionally bring their congregants by vans to vote after service during these early voting periods. “This is not about voter ID,” Rep. Pierce said. “This is about voter suppression.”
The head of the state NAACP, who has been leading weekly “Moral Monday” protests attracting tens of thousands of protesters to the state legislative building since April 29, resulting in 926 arrests thus far, agrees.
“This latest voting rights attack represents the most comprehensive attack on the right to vote that this state has enacted since the institution of Jim Crow laws in the 19th century when federal troops pulled out of the South,” said North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William J. Barber II. “Extremist members of the General Assembly viewed the Supreme Court’s ruling [striking down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act] as once again federal protections being removed, thereby giving them the freedom to undermine and disenfranchise the poor, African Americans, and all people of color.”
The remarks of U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. last week before the National Urban League Conference in Philadelphia, where he vowed that despite the Supreme Court’s ruling crippling the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Justice Department would still vigorously pursue Texas, and other states where the voting rights of African-Americans have been hindered, was welcomed by Barber.
“The NC NAACP commends the Department of Justice for taking action to address clear discrimination in Texas,” he said in a statement. “Just as in Texas, the omnibus bill awaiting signature by our governor is based on nothing but a bare intent to discriminate against African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, women, students, the poor and other minorities in North Carolina. “If this bill is signed into law, in response to these drastic, immoral, and race-based enactments, the NC NAACP will use every legal, organizing, and communications tool available to uphold and defend both the letter and the spirit of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the North Carolina Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution,” Rev. Barber continued. “And we will win.”