We are swiftly approaching the 2014 midterms and voter suppression efforts are in full swing!
The Supreme Court recently let stand Ohio’s decision to slash early voting days – a change that will disproportionately impact black voters. And Texas’s new voter ID law, the law that a district court judge determined constitutes an “unconstitutional poll tax” and is estimated to disenfranchise 600,000 voters, many of them people of color.
And then…there’s North Carolina. Home to a hugely important Senate race that could help determine the balance of Congress.
A new NBC News/Marist Poll released this morning shows incumbent Kay Hagan and state representative Thom Tillis tied at 43 percent.
In a massive suppression bill passed by the NC House while Tillis was its Speaker, North Carolina eliminated same-day voter registration, prohibited counting votes inadvertently cast in a wrong precinct.
And set the countdown clock for the strict voter ID laws to take effect beginning in 20-16.
It is Democratic blue in 2008 by 1,210 votes – then Republican red in 2012 by just 753 votes.
And the Watauga County has been the site of one of the most contentious fights over student access to the polls this year. The county itself tends to vote Republican – but is home to Appalachian State University, where students tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
And those students are no inconsequential group. They make up one third of the county’s population… and have had an early voting site on campus since 2006. In 2012, 35 percent of all early voters in the county voted at ASU’s on campus site.
So when the state Board of Elections decided in August on an early voting plan that removed the ASU early voting site, they were not just making it harder for young people to vote – they were restricting access to the polls for a third of their county!
And this is when it gets complicated. So, August: no early voting at App State. A decision that didn’t sit well with some in the county… and in September seven Watauga voters filed a petition to restore the early voting site.
September: no early voting at App State, but they’re trying to get it back! Last Monday, a Superior Court judge agreed with that lawsuit, and ordered the state to make new early voting plans including the ASU site. He wrote in his decision, “…the court can conclude no other intent from that board’s decision other than to discourage student voting.”
So, October 13. App State has a voting site! Right? But then state attorneys filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court for an emergency stay and appeal. The argument said – and this is a real quote – that following the order to keep the early voting site on campus would cause “irreparable harm.”
So on October 16. Maybe voting site – maybe not.
And as of this Wednesday, one day before the start of early voting, the state Supreme Court hadn’t ruled on the petition, leaving open the possibility that the campus voting site “could be restored.”
Hours away from the start of early voting, with no word from the Supreme Court, the Board of Elections called an emergency meeting to comply with the trial court’s decision, and voted to keep the ASU early voting site.
So – this Wednesday. October 22 – we finally knew. Early voting at ASU! Phew.
But… the story didn’t end there. Thirty minutes after the board of elections voted to keep the site open, the state Supreme Court made its ruling, staying the superior court’s judgment and opening up the possibility, again, to eliminate the voting site.
But with only hours until the beginning of voting, the Board announced they would keep the site open. Allowing ASU students to vote early, on their campus.
Early voting began on Thursday.
And by Friday there were already more than one thousand votes cast at the ASU student union – nearly half of all early votes in the county.
Which brings me to my letter of the week.
Dear North Carolina student voters,
Over the past year, you have seen fragility of your constitutionally protected rights under the weight of partisan driven voter suppression efforts. In the long term, we will need structural fixes to ensure this basic tenet of our democracy. A new section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Legislation that works to open the vote to the many, rather than restrict it to the few.
But for now, you have nine days.
Nine days before voting ends in North Carolina. Nine days to determine who will sit in your state legislature. Who will fill your district’s judgeships. Who will represent you in the Senate.
You have been the targets of voter suppression efforts – and for this election cycle, you prevailed. But the rash of voter suppression laws this year have made it clear that your victory is not guaranteed for the future.
It will take more than one election. But this election – and your vote – are critical.
North Carolina student voters, you have nine days. Make them count. Vote.