Thursday, August 22, 2013

The War on Black Voters in North Carolina

Disclosure and disclaimer: I work for the NAACP. However, as usual, the opinions expressed in this article are my own personal opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the NAACP, its officers, its members and/or its staff. I take sole responsibility for the contents of this article.

America is becoming a majority minority country. This nation is browning. Soon and very soon, white people will no longer be a majority. This country is slowly transforming and undergoing the Second Reconstruction. In 2008 and 2012, we witnessed what was once inconceivable, the election and re-election of the first African American president. In 2012, for the first time, a greater percentage of black people voted than white people. Progressives view those milestones as major achievements. Conversely, the reactionaries view those developments as the realization of their greatest fear, the fear of a black and brown nation.

Like the racist Klansmen in the Southern states following Reconstruction and like the white minority Apartheid regime in South Africa, the modern day White Citizens' Council, also known as the Republican Party, is determined to cling on to power by any means necessary. For the time being, their means of choice is voter suppression. By striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Supreme Court unleashed the southern states on black people. Republican dominated southern states are waging an open war against African American voters. North Carolina is ground zero in that war.

People are not stupid. They know that blatant Jim Crow tactics such as outright poll taxes and literacy tests will be struck down by the courts. So, the right has erected new, second generation barriers to make it more difficult for black people to vote. The radical right wants to discourage black people from voting. If enough votes are suppressed, the GOP can remain in power. To hide their true intentions, they claim that they doing what is necessary to fight in person voter fraud. However, in person voter fraud is extremely rare.

Here is what is happening in North Carolina and why it matters. Last week, the North Carolina State Conference NAACP filed a lawsuit to strike down North Carolina law H.B. 589, the worst voter suppression law in the country. That law imposes strict voter identification requirements. According to the North Carolina Justice Center, "African Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to not have a government-issued ID." According to the ACLU of North Carolina, although black people are only 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they are 31 percent of the voters who do not possess valid state-issued government ID.

In addition to imposing strict voter ID requirements, H.B. 589 eliminated same day voter registration. Similar to voter identification requirements, the elimination of same day registration has a disproportionate impact on black people. As stated in the NAACP's lawsuit, although African Americans are 22 percent of North Carolina's population, they constituted 41 percent of the people who used same day registration in 2012.

H.B 589 also eliminates seven full days of early voting, including Saturday and Sunday voting. That change disproportionately impacts black people. As stated in the complaint, 70 percent of black voters used early voting in 2012. Although black people constitute 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they constitute 29 percent of all early voters.

Finally, H.B. 589 eliminates out of precinct voting and increases the number of people who can challenge ballots. As stated in the complaint, although black people constitute 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they cast 30 percent of all out of precinct ballots. By increasing the number of challengers, North Carolina is paving the way for right wing groups like True the Vote to harass and profile black and Latino voters. This will only slow down the voting process, increase the lines at the polls and discourage people from voting.

Before enacting H.B. 589, civil rights groups informed the legislature of the proposed law's disproportionate and discriminatory impact on African Americans. Yet, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Fifteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, the General Assembly decided to enact the law anyway. I hope that the court strikes down H.B. 589. If we don't defeat H.B. 589 in North Carolina, voter suppression will become the norm and African American political power will be diluted and other civil rights gains will be reversed as well.

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