Commentary: Trial that will address repressive N.C. voter law nears, get ready!

Commentary: Trial that will address repressive N.C. voter law nears, get ready!
July 02
00:00 2015

In above photo: A gavel used in courthouses

Trent Harmon, Guest Columnist
Eric S. Ellinson, Guest Columnist

In a few short weeks, Winston-Salem will take center stage as it serves as the host city of the federal lawsuit NC NAACP v. McCrory. This case will have national implications for the voting rights of all citizens.

A number of legal scholars have stated that the North Carolina statute is one of the most suppressive voter laws in the country. The Voter Identification Verification Act, the short name for HB 589, was enacted only days after 40 North Carolina counties were relieved from the preclearance requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit is a direct challenge to this law.

HB 589 was passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly in 2013 and dramatically altered the state’s voting requirements and laws. These modifications, taken as a whole, are already suppressing the vote in North Carolina by making it much more difficult to cast a ballot that will be counted. The lawsuit contends that HB 589 not only violates Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but also the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution. The most controversial and discussed of these changes has been the provision that requires citizens to have an identification card in order to cast a ballot, but the plaintiffs in NC NAACP v. McCrory address and take issue with the entirety of the law.

This inevitably leads one to ask: What specific changes to the voting laws will affect me on Election Day? The truth is the law’s numerous changes irrevocably alter the voting franchise in such a way that it amounts to the abridgment of the right to vote for many North Carolinians.

Several provisions should be noted as particularly suppressive: (1) ending same-day voter registration; (2) significantly shortening the early voting period, (3) elimination of the right of 16- and 17-year olds to pre-register, (4) increasing the number of persons that can challenge (intimidate) a person’s right to vote, (5) elimination of straight ticket voting (6) limitations to the local Board of Elections’ authority to extend voting hours, (7) prohibiting the counting of provisional ballots cast by a voter at the wrong precinct, and (8) packing the ballot.

HB 589 is not just about voter ID, nor is it about preventing voter fraud. It is about reducing the number of voters who can cast a ballot in 2016. A number of Republicans have gone on record to state that HB 589 is about preserving voter integrity. This is not only disingenuous, it’s a bold-faced lie. In actuality the law was enacted with a very specific agenda in mind – to compromise our voting process in such a way so as to reduce the number of voters thereby allowing Republicans to maintain their majority in our state government.

The Republicans are outnumbered, and thus they must look to other avenues for maintaining control. Currently in North Carolina, there are approximately 2.6 million registered Democrats and only 1.9 million registered Republicans. So, in addition to reducing voting numbers, Republicans have drawn voting districts to maintain their incumbency. You, the voters of North Carolina, are left with no voice, no choice, and with a state controlled by radical, out-of-touch Republicans. This is wholly unacceptable – it violates the principles at the core of our democracy. It is horrendous to think that the policy of the Republican Party is to abridge the right to vote – to have less people vote, not more. But, this is now an awakening truth.

The Forsyth County Democratic Party has long believed that the N.C. GOP did not have the interests of everyday, hardworking North Carolinians in mind when enacting their agenda. This law is but another example of this, and we believe it to be wholly unconstitutional.

During the week of July 13th, the legality of HB 589 will be tested. At the U.S. District Courthouse at 251 Main St., the voting rights of all Americans will be evaluated, weighed, and judged –

Are we a country that promotes the elective franchise and ensures that all citizens have the unabridged right to cast their vote? Or, do we go back to the days before Selma? Will we willingly allow our state to regress by accepting laws that harken back to an ugly past of inequality and hate?

If you want progress and believe that each and every citizen should be able to easily cast their vote, you are not alone. Thousands will converge in Winston-Salem on July 13th to join the activities and rally on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Monday Movement.

This is a call to action! It is our time to assemble, to continue the fight for humanity, equality, and justice. History is being made and this is your chance to be an active participant – to be part of democracy in action, to help create a lasting change. The question of who we are as citizens of the United States will be answered in our hometown in July. Why would you miss it?

Eric S. Ellison is chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party and is an attorney with his own law practice in Winston-Salem, the Ellison Law Firm.

Trent Harmon is third vice chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party.

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