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Among voter-suppression bills, 'This is the single worst'

Over the last few years, we've seen quite a few states take up new voting restrictions, immediately on the heels of Republican gains in the 2010 election cycle,
Voters take advantage of early-voting opportunities in North Carolina in 2012.
Voters take advantage of early-voting opportunities in North Carolina in 2012.

Over the last few years, we've seen quite a few states take up new voting restrictions, immediately on the heels of Republican gains in the 2010 election cycle, so much so that the notion of a "Republican war on voting" was widely recognized and understood. After the 2012 elections, despite the failures of voter suppression, state GOP officials renewed their efforts.

But it's probably fair to say we haven't seen anything quite as astounding as the proposed restrictions in North Carolina. Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, "This is the single worst bill we have seen introduced since voter suppression bills began sweeping the country."

And as of this morning, it seems all but certain to pass.

The Senate gave key approval Wednesday to legislation that radically alters how voting will be conducted in North Carolina in future elections.House Bill 589 passed by a 32-14 vote. A final vote is expected Thursday, and the House would then have to agree with the myriad changes the Senate made to what started out as a measure to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The Republicans efforts to suppress voting has drawn public protests -- six people were arrested after participating in a sit-in at state House Speaker Thom Tillis' office yesterday -- but for now, the GOP majority in both chambers of the state legislature don't seem to care.

Remember, as recently as a few months ago, North Carolina Republicans shelved plans for voting restrictions, assuming they'd never get Justice Department clearance under the Voting Rights Act. But after five Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices gutted the VRA, conservatives in North Carolina not only took their proposal off the shelf, they made it much worse.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, "They're going after early voting. They're going after voter registration drives. For college students, not only will you not be able to use your college ID to allow you to vote, but if you vote where you go to college, the state wants to tax your parents as a penalty for you voting in your college town. If your ID is from public assistance, you can't use that to vote. If your ID is because you're a public worker, because you work for a city or a county in North Carolina, you cannot even use that ID to vote."

Aside from the obvious reason, why do this on purpose to your own state's electorate?

Republican proponents say it's to prevent voter fraud, but we already know that's patently ridiculous. By any fair assessment, this is about rigging elections.

But as Dahlia Lithwick explained, there's another layer to this.

Some of the gems advanced recently in the legislature include an abortion bill tacked first onto an anti-Sharia law and then snuck in through a motorcycle safety law (new TRAP regulations may shutter all but one clinic in the state). Another bill forces all educators to teach seventh graders that abortion causes preterm birth (it doesn’t). Lawmakers also enacted legislation (described here and elsewhere as “the harshest unemployment insurance program cuts in our nation's history”) that resulted in 70,000 North Carolina citizens losing their unemployment benefits. The state is one of the 15 to have refused Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. A proposed education bill would slash teacher compensation, (already ranked among the lowest in the nation), eliminate tenure, and use vouchers to reallocate $90 million of public-school funding to private schools (The school superintendent issued a statement this week saying that in light of the proposed deep cuts to the education budget “For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.”) Don’t forget the embarrassing proposed resolution allowing counties and cities to enshrine a state religion. Or the proposed ban on nipples.But none of this is a joke. For reasons that Kromm and Sturgis lay out at length, it’s a well-funded, Koch-endorsed Christmas rush to get everything done right now.How does the state legislature control an electorate that by all accounts really hates the state’s new legislative initiatives? Simple. Drown them out—by diluting minority/Democratic votes through redistricting, or suppressing the vote.

The point, in the other words, is to insulate policymakers from democracy. These elected officials in North Carolina want to pursue radicalism without fear of voters punishing them, so they're creating an electoral framework in which defeat is far less likely, popular will be damned.

Voting-rights advocates are already preparing legal challenges. We'll keep you posted.