Voter ID Battle a Stain on North Carolina History

 A poster listing voter identification requirements at a North Carolina precinct ( Image )

A poster listing voter identification requirements at a North Carolina precinct (Image)

 

This November, the North Carolina General Assembly will attempt something it has attempted time and time again: to hinder vulnerable North Carolinians from casting their votes.

The Republican supermajority in the General Assembly is no stranger to disenfranchising its citizens. Though the legislative body has a less than 20 percent approval rating with its constituents, it has consistently excelled at one thing: making it exceedingly difficult for North Carolina’s minority, student, and elderly populations to vote.

 
 
 North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District in 2016 before being redrawn by the General Assembly under federal court order ( Image )

North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District in 2016 before being redrawn by the General Assembly under federal court order (Image)

North Carolina is widely regarded as one of the most gerrymandered states, due to congressional district maps drawn by the state legislature in 2010. The legislature’s pattern of using egregiously-shaped districts for political advantage dates back to periods when incumbent Democrats drew the lines to win elections in the 1990s. Both parties are to blame for the lack of an independent commission tasked with drawing fair maps in North Carolina. But the current Republican supermajority has doubled down on its gerrymandered districts time and time again over the last decade, spending millions of tax dollars to defend maps that federal courts continually strike down as racially and politically motivated.

Gerrymandered districts are the tip of the voter-suppression iceberg in North Carolina. Republicans in the General Assembly are  waging a war on minority voters through their repeated attempts to establish discriminatory requirements for voters to show photo identification at the polls.

 

Voter identification laws are designed to hurt citizens who face financial or physical challenges that prevent them from obtaining photo identification. Requiring identification at the polls can be a barrier to voting for students, the elderly, those experiencing poverty, and minority groups. The impacts of these restrictive laws on minority populations are proven: a 2017 study found 27.5 percent of voters deterred by a Wisconsin voter ID law were African American, compared to the 8.3 percent of deterred voters who were white.

 A demonstrator protesting voter ID laws in North Carolina ( Image )

A demonstrator protesting voter ID laws in North Carolina (Image)

Republican lawmakers have poorly disguised voter identification requirements as a solution to a problem: voter fraud. That problem is, however, virtually nonexistent: Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.

In 2016, a three-judge panel struck down a voter ID law implemented by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2013, citing emails between legislators that proved the law targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision.” The law was a blatant attempt to keep racial minorities who might support Democratic candidates from ever reaching the polls.

Now, Republicans in Raleigh are attempting to do so yet again. In June, legislators added six constitutional amendments to the 2018 ballot, including a voter ID requirement.

 

The language of the amendment leaves much room for interpretation by the General Assembly, as the ballot measure does not specify the types of acceptable identification that would be required. That is a scary prospect, given the legislature’s history of racially-motivated disenfranchisement. The Republican-controlled legislature has proven that North Carolinians cannot trust it to use its powers to protect the rights of brown and black people.

Disenfranchisement is on the ballot this November. Without our lawmakers to trust, North Carolinians will have to rely on ourselves — and our votes — to protect our democratic rights.