October 8, 2013
Maybe you’ve made up your mind about the photo ID debate, but please consider these two points.
First, polls show most North Carolinians think asking voters to show a photo ID is just common sense. But asking for an ID is a slogan, not a policy. The policy spells out the details. What if the policy said your photo must be less than 1 year old and the name on the ID must perfectly match your name on the voter registration roll, including a complete middle name? Many ID supporters would call such a policy excessive and unreasonable.
Do you know what North Carolina’s policy actually says? I bet your own state legislator doesn’t know either. The slogan won support, but are you sure the policy is reasonable? In truth, it’s quite extreme. If it was only as restrictive as, say, South Carolina’s, the U.S. Department of Justice would not be challenging it.
In its details, the North Carolina law is more restrictive than virtually every other state with an ID policy. That’s why it’s being challenged.
Second, the popular support for the ID created a smoke screen behind which Republican legislators packed in a host of other changes that favor their party, give more clout to wealthy donors, and hurt certain kinds of voters. Many of those changes, such as repealing campaign disclosure requirements or cutting a week off of early voting, would not have gained support on their own. But the drama around the ID provided a convenient distraction to add provisions that will affect even more voters than the ID hurdle.
Republican lawmakers had clear evidence that certain voting changes would harm African Americans and youths more than white, middle-class voters, yet those are the provisions they enacted. They had no evidence of significant fraud caused by voter impersonation or out-of-precinct voting, yet they imposed new restrictions anyway.
They had more evidence of fraud by mail-in absentee voting, a method used by more Republicans than Democrats, yet the new law makes absentee ballots easier to get through mass mailings and other techniques. So fraud or election integrity cannot explain why some voting methods were repealed while others were expanded.
The numbers reveal who will suffer most from the voting changes: African Americans were 22 percent of registered voters in 2012, but they cast 34 percent of the same-day registration ballots for new voters, 33 percent of the ballots cast in the first week of the early voting, 30 percent of the out-of-precinct ballots cast on Election Day, and 43 percent of the ballots cast on the now eliminated first Sunday of early voting.
They are 34 percent of the registered voters who do not appear to have a DMV license or NC photo ID, but only 9 percent of the voters who use mail-in absentee ballots, the one method Republicans chose to expand.
North Carolina has a sad history of voter suppression, stemming from the Jim Crow laws adopted by Democrats over 100 years ago that included the poll tax and literacy tests. The parties have reversed roles but the ugliness of this new law is too similar.
The U.S. Justice Department has a duty to stop election practices that systematically disadvantage people of color in violation of the 14th and 15th amendments and Voting Rights Act. Let’s hope justice prevails.
Bob Hall is executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan election reform organization with the website www.democracy-nc.org.