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OPINION: Voter ID referendum opens door for voter suppression in NC

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The Appalachian Online

The 2018 midterm elections marked a milestone for voting rights in the U.S. A constitutional amendment on the ballot in Florida restored the right to vote for more than 1 million ex-felons. Kris Kobach, who investigated non-existent voter fraud for President Donald Trump after the 2016 election, lost the Kansas governor’s race. In Georgia, a federal judge ordered the review of thousands of provisional ballots, ruling that the Secretary of State Brian Kemp, while overseeing his own election, failed to “properly maintain a reliable and secure voter registration system.” Kemp went on to win the election.

But in North Carolina, the electorate voted in favor of a constitutional amendment which allows the NCGA to once again require photo identification to vote. The amendment is not the law, it only allows the law to be written by the NCGA, with full discretion on the specific details. If recent history is any indicator, NCGA Republicans will not use this power to “secure the ballot” as they like to claim. Rather, they will use it to suppress votes of generally Democratic leaning minorities and college students like they did five years ago.

In 2013, the NCGA passed a law which required only specific types of photo ID to vote as well as limiting early voting days, both of which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said targeted African-Americans with “almost surgical precision” when the court declared the law unconstitutional in 2017. The law also restricted use of student IDs to vote. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, supporting the decisions of the lower courts.

After the ruling, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate president pro tempore Phil Berger released a foreshadowing statement.

“All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote,” the statement said.

By putting photo ID on the ballot, NCGA Republicans are once again attempting to subvert the election process. They will enthusiastically write new laws to restrict access to the polls, emboldened by the voters and the new conservative leaning Supreme Court.

In theory, requiring photo ID to vote makes sense. North Carolina is the only southern state without a photo ID law. Republicans can reasonably claim that the motivation for the amendment and previous law was to secure elections and combat voter fraud.

But, evidence is clear that voter fraud is not a widespread problem in North Carolina. An audit by the North Carolina Board of Elections on the 2016 presidential election found 508 fraudulent votes, the majority of which came from convicted felons. The audit acknowledges many felons may not have known voting was a crime. Only 41 votes came from non-citizens. North Carolina had over 7 million registered voters in 2016.

So when ex-representative Jonathan Jordan says that the public does not hear about voter fraud because it is so easy to commit, as he did at a debate at App State in October, he is playing to the rationalizing narrative and not looking at the facts. The data is there. The voter ID amendment is a response to a largely non-existent problem.

Republicans in North Carolina know that more voter turnout generally does not work in their favor. There are currently over 500,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina.  That’s why gerrymandering and requiring specific voter ID are used to help Republicans stay in power. There is no reason for a state as politically split as North Carolina to have a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly and for the state to send 10 Republicans to the House of Representatives to only three Democrats.

Democrats broke the supermajority in the midterms, but new representatives are not sworn in until January. Republicans will no doubt pass a voter ID law in the next legislative session starting Nov. 27 while they can still override Governor Cooper’s veto.

Requiring photo ID to vote is not unreasonable, but requiring only certain types of ID is discriminatory and reeks of a poll tax. The law the NCGA passed in 2013 was unconstitutional, and there is no reason to expect the new one to be any different. If Republicans really want to claim they are securing the ballot, they should wait until after inauguration and pass a bill that is not purely partisan and disenfranchises African-Americans and college students. Pay attention to the NCGA starting Nov. 27, the laws passed then will have far reaching implications for 2020 and beyond.

Written by: Tommy Mozier, Opinion Writer

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About the Contributor
Tommy Mozier, Senior Reporter
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