In Voter ID amendment, voter suppression lives on in North Carolina

In Voter ID amendment, voter suppression lives on in North Carolina

- in Original Commentary, Top Story
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When North Carolina elections chief Kim Strach declared last week that polling places should take down “no photo ID required” signs this year, the Republican appointee explained that she didn’t want to confuse voters.

“With a constitutional amendment on the ballot regarding photo voter ID, there are concerns this signage could ultimately be more confusing than it is helpful to voters, and that it could be perceived as taking a position on the merits of the amendment,” Strach wrote in her Oct. 15 memo. “Voters who ask should be told verbally that they do not need a photo ID.”

In other words, Strach worried that explaining this year’s voting process would be disorienting to voters.

Never mind that, at least for this mind-boggling, maelstrom of a mid-term election, access to the ballot box is mercifully simple and, yes, photo ID free. Strange times, indeed, when election leaders nix signage that may encourage North Carolinians to vote.

Voters may indeed be puzzled, but they were confused before Strach’s ill-advised memo, and they’ll be confused after, thanks to a half-decade of malicious attempts by North Carolina lawmakers to manipulate the voting process in their favor. The latest of which, a constitutional amendment to impose photo ID on the state constitution, will be decided in this November’s election.

Legislators say they only seek to protect the sanctity of the polling places from throngs of fraudulent voters, despite a yawning chasm where the evidence is supposed to go. A state probe of the 2016 election found few instances of ineligible voters casting ballots, and certainly not enough to affect any state race.

And multiple national studies, acknowledged by politicians on the right and the left, found scant evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a non-citizen voting,” David Becker, of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, told Politico in 2016.

That’s not to say some voters may be legitimately concerned about voter fraud, voters who’ve listened as theatrically-minded partisan leaders on the right wrung their hands over the threat. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest offered the latest “red alert,” releasing a bizarre video this week in which he explained, step by step, how to commit voter fraud.

If we only had a photo ID requirement, Forest implored, North Carolina would have nothing to fear.

But our legislative leaders – politicians who’ve dutifully run the numbers – know better than to believe their own talking points. Despite the assertions of Forest and this amendment’s chief benefactor, state House Speaker Tim Moore, measures like this are wholly unnecessary, and they make voting more difficult for certain members of our population, particularly voters of color that tend to skew against the current legislative majority.

It is politics, of course, so we should expect manipulations from both sides. But supporters’ drumbeat for voter ID is more political campaign than public service announcement. Voters should see beyond the theater and the pomp.

Voter ID laws smack of an old Southern recipe, abject racism at the ballot box, our troubled history made manifest in our troubled present.

Such politicians borrow liberally from the turn-of-the-20th century “innovations” of bigoted partisans who longed for the Antebellum South, those who feared a groundswell of newly-enfranchised Black voters would dramatically alter the composition of Southern state legislatures.

They were right, of course, and their racist machinations – poll taxes, literacy tests, or, when all else failed, violence – paid off politically, suppressing Black voters for decades.

It was conservative Democrats then. It’s conservative Republicans now. The names and the faces have changed, but at its rotten-apple core, the political math is no less dispiriting.

Look to Franklin County, where last week, residents complained when a poll worker allegedly asked Black voters to spell their names, an isolated incident but a disturbing one nonetheless if true.

And in Georgia, the GOP candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, stands accused of using his current office as Georgia secretary of state to improperly purge as many as 340,000 eligible voters and freeze registrations for thousands, mostly voters of color.

Kemp called the allegations a “farce” this week, but Georgia is on the front lines of a conservative campaign to restrict voting access in Southern states, one waged since a pivotal 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eschewed federal oversight of voting changes in states like Georgia and North Carolina, states with lengthy histories of discrimination at the ballot box.

Indeed, when Judge Diana Gribbon Motz and a panel of U.S. Court of Appeals judges struck down the North Carolina legislature’s 2013 voting reforms, which included a photo ID requirement, Judge Motz decried the General Assembly’s “surgical precision” in prepping the law, highlighting GOP operatives’ studious attempts to diagram and disrupt Black voters in the weeks after the Supreme Court decision cleared a path.

This year’s amendment contains nowhere near the booth-busting chicanery as that 2013 law, which also axed early voting hours and same-day registration. But in this year’s amendment, the much-maligned photo ID requirement is reborn, a zombified attempt to render what’s been deemed unconstitutional by the courts to be constitutional by the voters.

In Raleigh, there’s a voice from on high, from the highest chambers in the General Assembly, that seems to offer a tacit endorsement of voter suppression when they should speed its condemnation. It deflects when it should reflect. And it forces North Carolinians, particularly Black North Carolinians, to relive a tortured past that’s neither gone nor forgotten.

With this constitutional amendment, voters should send a message to the state legislature. The Reconstruction South is dead. Bury its political maladies in the same grave.