Lawsuits Challenge NC Voter Suppression Laws
The ACLU and the NAACP have launched dual lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s bevy of new voter suppression laws.
The state unleashed a pupu platter of restrictions this month combining many of the more insidious suppression tactics, including requiring strict government ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting periods and prohibiting certain voter registration drives.
The laws, and others like them around the nation, are aimed especially at limiting the ability of poor and minority citizens to vote. Legislators justify the laws by saying they are enacted in order to reduce in-person voter fraud, which according to a George Bush-era Justice Department report as well as other studies effectively does not exist.
One of the plaintiffs in the NAACP suit, 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton, spoke recently about how she had to pass a literary test when she first voted in the 1950s. Now she has lost the right to vote because she can’t get an acceptable form of government ID since the name on her birth certificate is different from that on her other documents.
“She thought things were smooth sailing,” her daughter told ThinkProgress. “She’s seen the good, bad, and the ugly. Now she’s seeing the ugly again. She fought for civil rights, she was a civil rights worker, and now she sees that it’s going backward.”
One state legislator even resigned her seat in protest over the new laws. After 17 years in the state Senate, Ellie Kinnaird stepped down in order to focus her efforts on helping people get proper ID so eligible voters are not denied franchise.
Despite the backlash, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory defended the laws. “While some will try to make this seem to be controversial, the simple reality is that requiring voters to provide a photo ID when they vote is a common sense idea,” he said. “This new law brings our state in line with a healthy majority of other states throughout the country.”
Something Very Wrong
North Carolina proceeded to pass its new roster of suppression laws immediately following the June Supreme Court decision to throw out part of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states and localities with a history of discrimination to make changes to voting laws without preclearence from the Justice Department. Parts of North Carolina were previously covered by the law.
“Usually it takes years to judge when the Supreme Court gets something very wrong,” law professor and election expert Richard L. Hasen writes on Slate. “But the conservative justices’ decision this past June in Shelby County v. Holder, striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, has already unleashed in North Carolina the most restrictive voting law we’ve seen since the 1965 enactment of the VRA.”
“That the conservative justices have already been proven wrong a few scant weeks after the decision came down offers little solace for the voters of North Carolina,” Hasen writes, “who ironically will have to try to fix the problem using the very mechanism of voting—which the North Carolina legislature is inhibiting.”
Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas and Mississippi have also advanced measures to suppress the minority vote now that they are free from preemptive interference from the federal government.
The Department of Justice has indicated that although it can no longer block the laws from being enacted in the first place, it will still challenge the one in Texas and possibly those in other states as well.