North Carolina ushers in restrictive voting laws

North Carolina ushers in restrictive voting laws

, @morganwinn

6:05 PM on 08/12/2013
Campaign volunteer Barbara Smalley-McMahan clutches her pad while attempting to register voters in downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 26, 2012. (Gerry Broome/AP)Campaign volunteer Barbara Smalley-McMahan clutches her pad while attempting to register voters in downtown Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 26, 2012. (Gerry Broome/AP)

The ACLU moved swiftly Monday, joining forces with civil rights groups in a lawsuit to challenge the sweeping elections bill signed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory just hours earlier.
Despite significant backlash in recent weeks, McCrory signed a restrictive election bill Monday that creates a strict voter ID requirement, shrinks early voting period by a week, while also ending early voting on Sunday, same-day voter registration, and a program that had allowed 16- and 17-year olds to pre-register to vote.
McCrory justified his move in an opinion piece for the Raleigh News & Observer, pointing to the popularity of voter ID requirements in public opinion polls and arguing the bill would “protect the integrity of one of the most precious rights guaranteed in our state constitution, the right to vote.”
“The need for photo ID has been questioned by those who say voter fraud is not a problem in North Carolina,” he wrote. “However, without the higher level of identification a photograph provides, is it possible to know? Even if the instances of misidentified people casting votes are low, that shouldn’t prevent us from putting this non-burdensome safeguard in place.”
His article made no reference to the law’s significant cuts to early voting, one of the key measures the ACLU lawsuit—joined by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on behalf of the North Carolina League of Women Voters—targets, along with the end of same-day registration, and limits on “out-of-precinct” voting.

“This law is a disaster. Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens. It will turn Election Day into a mess, shoving more voters into even longer lines,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election, and we all know how that turned out – voters standing in line for hours, some having to wait until after the president’s acceptance speech to finally vote, and hundreds of thousands giving up in frustration. Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”
“Today’s lawsuit is about ensuring that all voters are able to participate in the political process,” said Allison Riggs, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice added. “Taken together, the new restrictions in this law will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, depriving many of our most vulnerable citizens from being able to easily exercise a constitutional right. Additionally, the Voting Rights Act prohibits the state from implementing voting changes that will make it harder for Black voters to cast a ballot – and that’s exactly what this law does.”
Civil rights groups had ripped the legislation, calling it a “new low.”
Keesha Gaskins, a lawyer from the Brennan Center, went so far as to call it “mean-spirited,” adding that the “measures don’t just harm democracy, they seem bent on curbing poll access for working people, young voters, seniors, and the disabled.”
The state’s Democratic Attorney General, Roy Cooper, had emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of the legislation in recent weeks as it sat on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. He had publicly urged McCrory to veto, rather than sign, the legislation. A petition Cooper sponsored had picked up nearly 17,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon. Another hosted on had more than 12,000.