By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from The Carolinian Newspaper
RALEIGH, N.C. – When Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 589 last week, the controversial Voter Information Verification Act, he said in an op-ed published in The News and Observer, “The common sense election reforms I just signed into law will protect the integrity of one of the most precious rights guaranteed in our state constitution, the right to vote.”
But the ink from the Republican governor’s signature was barely dry before a litany of progressive civil rights groups, led by the North Carolina NAACP, were lining up at the federal courthouse door, filing separate lawsuits to stop what they say are unconstitutional “voter suppression” measures to impose unwarranted voter photo ID, and end same day voter registration, Sunday voting, straight-ticket voting and pre-voter registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
“The NC NAACP, on behalf of all our branches and members, filed a complaint, along with (92-year-old) Mrs. Rosanell Eaton, and other plaintiffs… against the Governor of North Carolina in Middle District Federal Court,” Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, told reporters at the group’s Durham headquarters.
“The legal challenge is filed by the North Carolina NAACP,” Rev. Barber continued. “It charges that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans voting procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups. The suit also challenges the law under the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”
“This bill is not just about voter ID requirements,” Rev. Barber maintained. “It is 57 pages of regressive, unconstitutional acts to rig and manipulate elections through voter suppression. Our lawsuit will show how this voter suppression bill in its many eerie elements, revisits the tactics of Jim Crow in the 21st century are a form of what we have called for months James Crow Esquire tactics because each suppression tactic has a disproportionate, disparate, and discriminatory impact especially on African Americans and other minorities. This act of the Legislature and governor is about race, an outright attempt to manipulate voting and the result of voting through suppressing the African American vote and the votes of others that expand the electorate in ways not often favorable to the support of a narrow and extreme political agenda.”
Rosanell Eaton, 92, told reporters that what the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly had done in passing the voter restrictions bill was “evil.”
The NAACP wasn’t the only group hauling Gov. McCrory into court. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Southern Coalition for Justice also filed suit.
“The suit specifically targets provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit ‘out-of-precinct’ voting,” a statement from the plaintiffs states. “[Our suit] seeks to stop North Carolina from enacting these provisions, arguing that they would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
The statement continued, “During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half the total electorate. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections.”
Vocal opposition to Gov. McCrory’s signing of the omnibus elections bill in the state was swift and fierce.
“Once again, the Republicans have come up with a solution in search of a problem. But this time, they’re going after our very freedom,” said North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller. “With Governor McCrory signing the voter suppression legislation passed last month by the extremists in Raleigh, we now know they will literally stop at nothing to tighten their hold on their perceived power.”
Chairman Voller continued, “What we will see upon the enactment of this legislation is an increase in the number of hours North Carolinians spend voting, further disenfranchising working families from participating in our elections. Also, many of our seniors and economically disadvantaged won’t be able to successfully complete the process for obtaining a government identification card. At a time when more and more people are feeling frustrated by the inaccessibility and ineffectiveness of government, I believe, as do a majority of North Carolinians, that we need to increase access and strengthen our electoral system. Instead, the Republicans have chosen to do the exact opposite.”
State Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper, seen as one of the most probable Democrats to challenge Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, started a Change.org petition drive last week to urge McCrory not to sign the measure.
“This regressive elections law restricts voting, allows more corporate money into politics and reduces public disclosure for special interests looking to influence elections,” Cooper said in an email sent to supporters from his re-election campaign. “Plus it cuts short the time for early voting and stops those who go to the wrong precinct from casting provisional ballots. And on and on.”
“I urged the Governor to veto and more than 17,000 of you joined me in just four days,” Cooper continued. “Though I’m appalled that the bill is now law, I am encouraged by your response.”
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan [D-NC] immediately wrote to US Attorney General Eric Holder – who has already vowed to fight racially discriminatory voter suppression laws in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court crippling the 1965 Voting Rights Act – asking him to step in.
“I am deeply concerned that H.B. 589 will restrict the ability of minorities, seniors, students, the disabled, and low and middle incomes citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Sen. Hagan wrote. “I strongly encourage the Justice Department to immediately review North Carolina House Bill 589 and take all appropriate steps to protect federal civil rights and the fundamental right to vote.”
U.S. Congressman G. K. Butterfield [D-N.C.] also sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to, “…take swift and decisive action by using any legal mechanisms at your disposal to protect voting rights for North Carolinians.
“Like you, I have fought my whole life for equity in voting,” Butterfield wrote. “ I spent my entire legal career advocating for civil rights and helped to expand rights for minorities. Now, as a Member of Congress, my fight continues. I simply cannot stand idly by and watch overtly discriminatory and racially motivated initiatives go unchallenged. I am outraged. I strongly urge you to utilize any and all legal avenues at your disposal to fight this horrible law that turns back the clock on a generation of progress for voting rights.”