When North Carolina Republicans passed perhaps the nation’s most restrictive voting law last month, they weren’t just making it harder for minorities, students, and other Democratic-leaning groups to vote. They also were eviscerating the legacy of one prominent progressive lawmaker.
“They’ve dismantled 17 years of my work,” Ellie Kinnaird, 81, told MSNBC Thursday afternoon, days after stepping down after ending her long career in the state Senate to devote herself full time to fighting the state’s hard-right lurch. “All those election laws that they removed, that was my work.”
The veteran Democratic legislator said she authored the bill that gave North Carolina among the most extensive early voting systems in the country, as well as a measure offering public financing of elections for state officials and judges. Kinnaird, a former mayor of Carrboro, near Raleigh, and a staunch liberal, said she also played a role in pushing a bill that allowed for same-day registration of voters, and another that created a popular program encouraging high-school students to pre-register.
“We were actually the most progressive in the country, and I take great pride in that,” Kinnaird said. “We’re now, sadly, going backwards and becoming a laughingstock of the country.”
The GOP-backed bill, signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory earlier this month, requires voters to show a photo ID, cuts back early voting, ends the same-day registration and pre-registration programs, and weakens the state’s campaign finance laws.
Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time since Reconstruction. They’ve used their power to institute an across-the-board shift to the right. In addition to voting rights, Kinnaird has also been a vocal opponent of the state’s decisions to reject the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, to end the Earned Income Tax Credit which benefits working families, and to make the unemployment benefits system less generous.
“Their ideology doesn’t like government,” she said of state Republicans. “Well, let’s face it, providing services to poor people.”
Kinnaird said she’s already working with black churches and sororities on a voting project aimed at ensuring her state’s minorities have ID and encouraging them to register. And she added that she’s received a flood of supportive messages from across the country.
”I’ve gotten them from Washington state, from California, everybody,” she said. “It reflects the anger and frustration that our people had.”
For Kinnaird, the decision to step down wasn’t difficult.
“If I’d gone back, I would have been just more frustrated and angry,” she said. “So I thought, there’s something I can do, and that’s the voter ID project.”