Texas may have been the first state to push new voter ID and redistricting plans, but it’s North Carolina that’s becoming a trailblazer with the most aggressive rollbacks to voting rights since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.
Almost a month after the Court ruling, a new sweeping bill moving through the North Carolina legislature is taking a “new low,” activists say.
The new omnibus elections bill expected to pass Wednesday through the North Carolina Senate brings together so many new voter suppression measures that it’s more than 50 pages long. North Carolina residents will be required to show a photo ID, and the list of acceptable documents has been shortened from the first version of the bill which was passed before the Supreme Court’s decision.
The only acceptable IDs will be driver’s licenses, a passport, military or veteran’s ID cards, or a tribal card. Student ID cards from the state’s colleges and universities will not be accepted, a move that’s likely to take a chunk out of the state’s Democratically-inclined student voters, nor will public assistance identification cards, which will make it harder for some of the state’s poorest voters to cast ballots.
The bill also reduces the early voting period by a week, and gets rid of same-day voter registration during early voting. It bans paid voter registration drives. It gets rid of a pre-registration system that allowed anyone older than 16 but not yet 18 to pre-register so they could be ready to vote when they turned 18. Under the new legislation, counties no longer have the freedom to extend poll hours on Election Day under “extraordinary circumstances” like, for example, long lines.
But it does loosen some rules with respect to elections, including those that benefit the rich. As WRAL explains, the bill will:
- Increase the maximum allowed campaign contribution per election from $4,000 to $5,000.
- Loosen disclosure requirements in campaign ads paid for by independent committees.
- Repeal the publicly funded election program for appellate court judges.
- Repeal the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaigns
Those are just some of the reasons the legislation has already drawn sharp criticism. The NAACP, League of Women Voters, and Democracy NC shared their opposition at this week’s “Moral Monday” protests.
Keesha Gaskins, a lawyer from the Brennan Center, calls it “mean-spirited,” saying the “measures don’t just harm democracy, they seem bent on curbing poll access for working people, young voters, seniors, and the disabled.”
She highlights a new provision that she says makes it “easier for vigilante poll workers to examine registration records and challenge voters.”
“This is the single worst bill we have seen introduced since voter suppression bills began sweeping the country two years ago,” Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
“Make no mistake–these changes are aimed at voters who have historically faced the biggest challenges: African Americans, Hispanics, students, low-income voters and individuals with disabilities,” she added. “Since 2000, North Carolina has had one of the most robust and accessible voting systems in the country. The introduction of this bill has the potential to reverse all of the electoral progress made by the state over the last 13 years.”
Democracy NC’s Bob Hall complains the bill is “breathtaking in scope and radical in purpose.”
“The substance and process of this legislation demonstrates a complete disrespect of honest voters,” he said in a statement.
Even Libertarians in the state oppose the law.
“Just when it didn’t seem possible that North Carolina’s election laws could get more restrictive, the Republican majority has come up with a massive bill that would make it even harder for people to vote,” J.J. Summerell, Chair of Libertarian Party of North Carolina, said in a statement. “Republicans claim to be the party of limited government. Now we see what that term really means: when Republicans say limited government, they apparently mean government limited to them and their supporters.”
Republicans in the Senate defended the bill, saying it will “ensure the perception of fraud-free elections” the Charlotte Observer explained.
The bill cleared in a tentative vote in the Senate Wednesday after hours of debate, and will head to the House after a final vote Thursday, where Speaker Tom Tillis says it will pass, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
Although challenges could come at the state level, this law will no longer be subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act, as it would have been before the Supreme Court’s decision which killed the coverage map that had required 40 counties to submit to have election law changes reviewed before they went into effect.
UPDATED 8:30 p.m. ET