In a party-line vote, legislators in North Carolina this week voted to roll back voting rights in an unprecedented fashion. House Bill 589, which Governor Pat McCrory's says he will sign into law, began as a bill that would require voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls. In the wake of the Supreme Court putting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on ice and lifting the requirement that the state seek approval for voting law changes from the Department of Justice, the bill was amended to include a host of other restrictions. In what law professor Rick Hasen calls the worst prospective law on voting in decades, it will significantly limit the rights of voters in North Carolina if it signed by the governor and allowed to go into effect.
Here's a sampling of what the bill does:
- It not only creates a photo ID requirement for voting, but one so strict that students cannot use their student IDs and public employees cannot use their identification cards.
- It shortens early voting by a week, reducing the early voting period from 17 days to 10, even though more than half of North Carolina voters used early voting in 2012. Florida's similar reduction of early voting in 2011 contributed to the state's famously long lines in 2012, and the Florida legislature this year promptly reversed the change.
- It ends North Carolina's popular same-day registration program during early voting, one that enabled tens of thousands of people to participate in elections. Now they must register, update their address, and make any other changes at least 25 days before of the election.
- It eliminates the voter pregistration program that enjoyed bipartisan support when it was introduced in 2009. This high school civics program improved students' achievement and civic preparation and preregistered tens of thousands of students to vote each year. The loss of this civic program is particularly harmful, as people who vote as soon as they become eligible are more likely to vote throughout their lives.
- The bill also eliminates public financing of judicial elections, weakens campaign disclosure laws, and eliminates instant runoff voting for late-breaking judicial vacancies.
If HB 589 goes into effect, it will be a huge step backwards for voters in North Carolina. State Senator Bob Rucho (R) told the press, "This bill will bring up to date an archaic and outdated election code," and "will go a long way to building confidence among voters and citizens in the process." However, the timing and scope of the bill suggests its true aim is limiting voter turnout among marginalized groups, such as youth, elderly voters, low income communities, and racial minorities.
When this law goes into effect, its fate in the courts will be a direct test of the proposition that we do not need an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. This unjustified assault on the right to vote should not stand. We believe passage of House Joint Resolution 44 would prevent such regression. A strong grassroots movement to support the right to vote amendment, along with city actions to boost participation, as exemplified by our Promote our Vote project would help turn back what has gone very wrong in North Carolina.