In North Carolina, which has had some of the most progressive voting practices and highest voter turnout rates in the country, some residents are grappling with the state’s new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the “pre-clearance” requirement of the Voting Rights Act, prompting the Republican-led state legislature to pass a law instituting voter ID, which overturned many of the voting procedures civil rights leaders spent years trying win.
Since 2011, 15 states — mostly Republican-controlled — have passed laws requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to be able to vote.
Now, the law is being challenged in federal court, to weigh whether it disenfranchises minorities who have been fighting for their voting rights for decades.
Critics say the reforms actually make it harder for people to vote, especially the poor, the young and racial minorities.
This summer, a federal trial aired the arguments on both sides. Here’s a sample of what the people involved had to say:
Carter Wrenn, Republican political consultant in North Carolina
“I’m not for discouraging people to vote. I frankly don’t think all the things that Republicans have done to discourage people to vote are going to have very much impact. Race, it gets mixed up in it, but the bottom line here is partisan politics. It’s Republicans looking to help Republicans.
In the ’90s here, when the Democrats looked at who weren’t registered, they found that disproportionately they were African American, so they said if we get those people to register it will help us elect Democrats. So they passed things like voter laws. It wasn’t racial; although it had a racial impact, it was partisan.”
Rev. Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP
“The fact that we have less voting rights today than we had August 6, 1965, should be troubling for every American. The government shouldn’t be in the business of denying people the right to vote. The Constitution does not say you can engage in partisan activity where race is the predominant factor. Everything that was put in that bill to roll back were the things that African-Americans had used in a more profound way and had been of great benefit to overcoming past barriers. It’s amazing to me the people that want to forget history.”
David Lewis, Republican North Carolina State Representative
“I truly believe that there are liberal Democratic political activists who are attempting to, because they can’t win the debate on ideas, they can’t win the debate on merit, because they claim this law was passed that it would somehow reduce African-American participation. In fact, there was no intent to do that, and if you compare the 2014 with the 2010 election, the African-American level of participation’s gone up. So what it all boils down to me is there are political activists in the state who will say or do anything they possibly can to advance their side of things. And if it means bringing up references to terrible times in our shared past to do that, they’re certainly willing to stoop to that level.”
Henry “Mickey” Michaux Jr., Democratic North Carolina State Representative
“You can count the number of black Republicans in this state. Republicans don’t want black folks. They don’t want African-Americans to vote. It’s not going to work that way. Around 1999, North Carolina was about 46th in the nation in [voter] turnout. By the time 2008 rolled around, we were 11th in the nation in turnout. The early voting, same-day registration, out of precinct voting, all of these things helped particularly in minority communities. And it helped turn that vote out. And it was the increase in black voting representation was very significant. The only thing that we have left to do is to go where we know our voices are going to be heard, that people are going to pay some attention to us.”
Dale Hicks, Former Marine Sergeant, co-plaintiff lawsuit against North Carolina
“I was in the transition of moving from Jacksonville to Raleigh. I moved that summer of 2014. And November is when the election was. When it was my time to vote I was hearing so much that was going on in the news about the political atmosphere in North Carolina. I realized that my address might be not accurate because I had just moved here to Raleigh. So basically you can’t vote. They told me I could vote but it’s going to be a provisional ballot and it’s not going to count. And at that point I felt disenfranchised.I basically felt like I lost the right to vote at that point. If it was from one state to another, I would have understood that, but just from going from one county to the next county and there’s nothing you can do, and it’s still early voting, it’s not even the Election Day. It seemed unreal.”
Rosanell Eaton, co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against North Carolina
“It’s not easy at all. To go through all this, it’s just unnecessary. A lot of old folks, they need somebody to help them go in and out of the cars. It’s a disadvantage, such a disadvantage to the black people. Because we work for this country, but they just don’t have the opportunities. So that’s why they have it harder. All the first work I did, now we gotta go and start all over again. To try to do something to restore the Act. It’s very discouraging. It’s heartbreaking. That’s what’s sad about it. Trying to start doing it again. As long as I’m able. That’s what I’m doing right now. Fighting. Marching to Washington. On this quest for voter rights. Everything that I can do, that’s my intention to do.”
Francis X. Deluca, President of Civitas, a conservative North Carolina think tank
“All these things made the system more complicated over the last couple of years, when same day registration and early voting were taking place at the same time. We had tens of thousands of people who registered to vote, and they could never verify their existence, where they were. And what that did was cause a lot of confusion. I mean, you had people voting where they weren’t eligible to vote, you had the people who administer the voting rolls not knowing who was going to show up and vote, and yet they are supposed to verify those people before they count the votes, and they weren’t doing that.”
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