Lawyering up

by YES! Staff

At a hastily called press conference on the last day in September — one in which he did not take questions from reporters — Gov. Pat McCrory characterized the lawsuit filed against his state by the US Justice Department as an “overreach.” In a joint statement Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Majority Leader Thom Tillis called the lawsuit “baseless.”

All three mentioned a key provision in HB 589, our state’s new election law passed in August — that beginning in 2016, voters in NC must show state-issued photo ID before voting, describing it as common sense and hugely popular.

And that may be true. The issue is a sacred cow to the left, where voting is viewed as an inalienable right. But it’s hard position to defend when so many transactions these days require at least one form of ID. One tack is to say it’s a solution in search of a problem — in 2012, of the nearly 7 million votes cast in NC, 171 of them were flagged as possibly fraudulent and sent to county district attorneys offices — about one-onethousandth of 1 percent.

But those who defend the law choose to neatly ignore the other three provisions targeted by the feds.

The new law knocks a week off early voting, something the Justice Department characterizes as racial discrimination.

“African Americans disproportionately utilized early voting during the November 2008 and November 2012 general elections in North Carolina,” it reads.

It also eliminates one-stop voting, in which, before Election Day, unregistered voters can put their names on the rolls and cast a vote on the same day. Statistically speaking, one-stop voting is also disproportionately popular with black people.

We’ll add to the charge of disenfranchisement a remarkable shortsightedness in the Republican Party with this provision.

True, in its infancy early voting favored Democrats, but it will not always be such. Seniors, a large part of their coalition, are catching on to the convenience afforded by early voting. Working people like the option of voting on Saturdays. In another generation, everybody will be doing it, regardless of party affiliation.

Perhaps the most egregious affront to the voting of rights of our state’s citizens is the fourth provision targeted by the Justice Department. It effectively ends the practice of casting provisional ballots in North Carolina.

A provisional ballot is offered when a voter, for whatever reason, is not on her precinct’s voting rolls. Sometimes the voter goes to the wrong precinct, in which case she is issued a provisional ballot enabling her to vote in every contest on that ballot in which she’s eligible — president, say, or US senate, or mayor, or governor. HB 589 stipulates that the provisional ballots of voters who vote in their home counties but the wrong precincts will not be counted.

The lawsuit states, “Data from past elections indicate that prohibiting the counting of provisional ballots… will likely mean the rejection of several thousand votes.” That is systemic disenfranchisement on a large scale.

What all these provisions have in common is that they seem designed to keep voters from the polls — nothing new in North Carolina, but it’s in direct conflict with one of our stated missions here at the paper.

We want to make it easier to vote. For everybody. And in that the federal government seems to be on our side.

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