Yesterday afternoon, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the worst voter suppression legislation in the country. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last night that the new law "reads like the greatest hits of voter suppression." Among other things, the new law ends pre-registration for 16 & 17 year olds; ends Election Day registration; cuts a week of early voting; makes it easier for random folks to "challenge' a fellow citizen's right to vote and takes away the authority county boards of elections had to extend polling place hours in extraordinary circumstances, like long lines when machines fail. The law also now requires voters to produce a specific government-issued identification card that can be disproportionally burdensome for students, people of color, elderly folks, and disabled individuals to obtain. Upwards of 318,000 North Carolinians currently lack the form of identification that is now required to cast a ballot. Many types of identification acceptable in lots of other states -- such as a college-issued photo id -- will not cut it in North Carolina. (The law also changed campaign finance law to make it easier for secret money to buy political races, but more on that in a later blog post).
And because the Supreme Court gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act back in June, the law is not subject to federal review before becoming effective.
That's why, as the ink of the Governor's signature dried, Common Cause North Carolina joined allies as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging several provisions of the law. Our North Carolina chapter is represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the ACLU. Other plaintiffs include the League of Women Voters, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Unifour Onestop Collaborative and individual voters. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court, challenges the reduction in early voting days, the loss of same-day voter registration and a portion of the law that makes it virtually impossible to count provisional ballots of voters that are instructed to go to the wrong precinct. It alleges that these portions of the law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits North Carolina from discriminatorily or arbitrarily treating qualified voters differently on account of race. Moreover, the complaint alleges that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, because the changes will "result in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote "_ on account of race or color." The law will "interact with social and historical conditions -- which are themselves largely due to discrimination in areas such as education, employment, housing, health services, and voting -- to cause an inequality in the opportunities enjoyed by African-American and white voters to elect their preferred representatives." Finally, the complaint seeks to use Section 3 to "bail-in" North Carolina into Section 5's requirement of pre-clearance, because of the state's history of discrimination against African Americans and other voters of color.
It's good news that several other lawsuits have also been filed in state and federal court by, among others, the NAACP of North Carolina and the Advancement Project, challenging other provisions of the law. These lawsuits will fight to ensure that all Tar Heel voters enjoy the free, fair and accessible right to vote.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections