It’s 2014, and North Carolina’s Monster Voter Suppression bill is beginning to go into effect. While people are NOT required to show a photo ID in order to vote in 2014 elections, precincts WILL be asking you whether or not you have a valid photo ID. Even if you say no they still have to let you vote, but this is yet another obstacle between properly registered voters and the ballot box. Add this to the discriminatory redistricting maps that are segregating voting precincts, and some are saying that the voting landscape in North Carolina is as bleak as it has been since the Jim Crow era. Not surprisingly, the people most impacted by all of these changes are women and people of color.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has conducted a review of the 318,644 registered North Carolina voters from the 2012 elections who did not have a valid, DMV issued photo ID that matched the name on their voter registration card  and found that, of all registered voters, NC women voters and people of color are disproportionately affected by virtually every part of the state’s new monster voter suppression law.
SCSJ has filed suit opposing North Carolina’s Voter ID law, and a separate suit challenging other aspects of NC’s new voter restriction law including limits to early voting, the end of provisional ballots for out-of-precinct voters, and the elimination of same-day voter registration. In the NC Redistricting suit, SCSJ has argued to the North Carolina Supreme Court that packing all minority voters into a few precincts dilutes their voting strenght throughout the state, and that racially gerrymandered districts have so changed voting precincts that thousands of people are assigned to the wrong voting precinct and thus disenfranchised. In all of these suits, SCSJ argues that NC voting restrictions disproportionately affect people of color, the elderly, students, and the very poor. It has now become clear that women are also experiencing new obstacles to exercising their right to vote.
Stories from other states show that strict voter ID measures are already disproportionately affecting women voters. For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis was forced to sign an affidavit to vote in 2013 state elections because her photo ID was not an exact match to her voter registration card. If North Carolina’s new photo ID requirement goes into effect in 2016, there will be no affidavit option – if a person’s photo ID is not deemed acceptable, that person will simply be turned away from the polls. And the people most likely to have those non-matching documents are women voters. According to a much-cited 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, a third of all women have citizenship documents that do not match their current legal name. This can be the result of marriage or divorce, both of which overwhelmingly result in the possibility of a woman changing her name and a man’s name staying the same. However, due to the broad reach of North Carolina’s new voting restrictions, SCSJ has found that women’s votes are being suppressed by many of NC’s voting restrictions in addition to the voter ID requirement.
Of North Carolina’s 6,655,302 registered voters at the time of the 2012 General Election, 3,575,713 (53.73%) were women. It stands to reason that, to some extent, women will be impacted more than men because they make up more than half of all NC registered voters. But our findings reveal that women’s excess voting burden far exceeds their slight overrepresentation in registered voters.
Much like other studies of photo ID, SCSJ found that NC women voters are overrepresented among those who do not have a valid, DMV issued photo ID that matches the name on their voter registration card. Of the 3,575,713 registered women voters in 2012, 202,714 or 5.7% of registered women voters lack the identification necessary to vote. Meanwhile, of the 3,079,589 registered male voters in 2012, 115,930 or 3.8% lack necessary photo ID. Another way of looking at the data is that nearly twice as many registered women voters lack the photo ID as similarly situated men. Of all registered voters lacking photo ID, 63.62% are women.
But voter ID issues for women don’t stop there. Of all registered NC women voters in 2012, 70.48% were white and 29.52% were nonwhite (an aggregate of voters identifying as African American, Indian American, “Other,” Two or more races, or Undesignated). Yet of the 202,714 registered women voters identified in the State Board of Elections’ “No ID” report, 56.48% were white and 43.52% were nonwhite. Women of color are substantially more impacted by photo ID requirements than white women. Particularly troubling is the trend in African-American women, who made up just 23.79% of registered female voters in 2012 but account for 34.22% of registered women voters in the “No ID” report.
New restrictions on one-stop early voting disproportionally affect all women, but particularly women of color. Women using one-stop early voting show voter suppression trends similar to those found with photo ID. 55.81% of one-stop early voters in the 2012 General Election were women. While African-American women made up 23.79% of total registered voters in 2012, they accounted for 31.69% of one-stop early voters. Interestingly, all non-white women appear to rely more heavily on one-stop early voting. While nonwhite women made up 29.52% of registered women voters in 2012, they made up 36.34% of one-stop early voters.
Elimination of same-day registration under the new NC voting law will disproportionately affect Asian and African-American women. Overall, women use same-day registration with roughly the same frequency as men. However, Asian women made up only .89% of registered women voters in 2012, yet 2.71% used same-day registration. Similarly, African American women made up 23.79% of registered women voters in 2012, but 34.31% used same-day registration.
Impact for NC Women
The League of Women Voters of North Carolina is a named plaintiff in SCSJ’s voting rights lawsuits. LWV-NC President Jo Nicholas stated that “we are in the lawsuits because it is our mission to protect the voting rights of all North Carolinians. The discovery that women are disproportionately burdened by new voting restrictions increases the League’s commitment to fighting for voting rights for all North Carolinians,” added Nicholas.
Some see the disparate impact on women voters as a major issue. “Voter suppression is a critical reproductive justice issue. Because of the new voter suppression laws, hundreds of thousands of women in North Carolina could be denied the right to express themselves on issues that directly impact their lives and their futures; these issues include the right to decide whether, when and with whom to have children,” added Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation.
Women are disparately impacted by NC’s new voting laws. And it will probably take some time to determine exactly how much damage has been done to NC women’s ability to vote. One thing is clear: women are already experiencing multiple burdens to their right to vote. At a time when so many essential decisions are being made about North Carolina’s future in general – and Women’s Rights in particular – it is doubly unfair to burden women with so many new voting restrictions.