By WILLIAM BARBER II
President, NAACP North Carolina
Moral Mondays Movement leader
APRIL 28, 2016
Durham, N.C. — ON Monday, Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., upheld legislation passed in 2013 that imposed far-reaching restrictions on voting across this state, including strict voter-identification requirements. Judge Schroeder justified his decision by claiming that robust turnout in 2014 proved that the law did not suppress the black vote. But in reality, his ruling defended the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century.
That attack began almost immediately after a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, which weakened Section 5 of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Section 5 required federal pre-approval of changes to voting laws in places with a history of discrimination, including parts of North Carolina. Within hours of that ruling, lawmakers in Raleigh filed H.B. 589, proposing some of the toughest voting rules in the country. Referring to Shelby, one sponsor expressed his relief that curtailing voting protections could move forward now that the “headache” of the Voting Rights Act had been removed. The Legislature passed the bill, and it was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.
The law eliminated voting rules that had enabled North Carolina to have the fourth best per capita voter turnout in the country. In 2012, 70 percent of black voters used early voting — and cast ballots at a slightly higher percentage than whites. Although black voters made up about 20 percent of the electorate, they made up 41 percent of voters who used same-day registration.
The North Carolina Legislature set out to change those figures and suppress minority votes. Its many impediments to voting all disproportionately affect African-American and Latino voters. None of their attacks would have survived pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. A Republican official defended the law this way: “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”
There never was evidence of voter impersonation to justify the voter ID requirements established by the law. Yet the harm of those requirements is clear: At last count, 318,000 registered North Carolina voters — disproportionately African-Americans and Latinos — do not have a driver’s license or a state ID card.