By Brendan Fischer on July 24, 2013

North Carolina Republicans have introduced a major overhaul of the state's election system, adding dozens of amendments to a voter ID bill that will authorize voter vigilantes, end election day registration, cut early voting, make it harder to register, and even create loony protections against "zombie voters." Update July 25: the bill passed the legislature, making North Carolina the first state to pass new voting restrictions after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act.

"Senate leaders have taken what was already an awful voter ID bill and created a nightmarish set of anti-voting measures that is sure to keep thousands of people from voting in the state," declared Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan good government organization, in an email to supporters.

With the U.S. Supreme Court having gutted the federal pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the North Carolina legislature is now largely free to enact voter restrictions without receiving the federal government's approval. The Republican-led legislature was already expected to pass a restrictive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-inspired voter ID law that threatened to disenfranchise 318,000 registered voters who don't have state-issued identification, but the new provisions were added as an amendment to that already-strict bill.

The House passed the voter ID bill requirement in April, but Senate leaders waited to add the amendments until the final week of the legislative session, and rolled-out the changes with almost no notice. The bill passed through the Senate rules committee on Tuesday, with just 10 members of the public allowed to testify. Members of the audience who applauded during the hearing were rejected from the room. "The substance and the process of this legislation demonstrate a complete disrespect of honest voters,"said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.

Measures like voter ID and limits on election-day registration and early voting have been promoted as a way to prevent "voter fraud," but recent studies show that out of millions of votes cast over the last 14 years in North Carolina, there have been only two cases of suspected fraud. Do two possible cases of voter fraud justify imposing new restrictions on 318,000 registered voters who don't have ID, 155,000 voters who registered at the polls, and a majority of voters who voted early?

Among other things, the amended bill:

  • Cuts Early Voting by a full week, which could lead to longer waits on election day, and which is made worse by another provision that prohibits counties from extending poll hours in case of long lines or other extraordinary circumstances. Florida pulled the same move before the 2012 elections, which led to six-hour lines and an estimated 200,000 voters who gave up and didn't vote. On Tuesday morning, voting rights groups in North Carolina warned lawmakers not to repeat Florida's mistake, planting dozens of plastic pink flamingos in the lawn outside the Legislative Building. "Despite warnings, North Carolina is poised to make the same mistakes Florida made," said Justin Guillory of the liberal advocacy group Progress North Carolina. In the 2012 elections, 56 percent of voters in North Carolina voted early, particularly voters of color.
  • Ends Election Day Registration: North Carolina is one of just nine states that allow voters to register at the polls on election day, with California and Connecticut soon to join the list. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican legislators also targeted election day registration last year (although they dropped the effort after public outcry and an estimate that ending the practice would cost the state $14.5 million). Around 155,000 North Carolina voters registered at the polls in 2012.
  • Authorizes Voting Vigilantes like True the Vote, a group best known for training Tea Partiers to patrol polling places for voter fraud, in many cases prompting accusations of voter intimidation. The group had a presence in North Carolina for the 2012 elections, but the potential for voter suppression was blunted by North Carolina law only allowing voter challenges from an individual registered within that precinct. This helped limit white voter vigilantes traveling to communities of color and intimidating voters, as True the Vote poll watchers have been known to do. The amendments would eliminate the precinct-only provision and allow challenges from any registered voter in a county.
  • Codifies "Zombie Voter" Paranoia with a provision that reads:

    "At the time funeral arrangements are made, a funeral director or funeral service licensee is encouraged to make available to near relatives of the deceased a form upon which the near relative may report the status of the deceased voter to the board of elections of the county in which the deceased was a registered voter."

    For years, Republican lawmakers have peddled myths of the dead casting ballots, despite essentially zero evidence of it happening. The issue became particularly salient last year in South Carolina, when Republicans in the state alleged (and Fox News repeated) claims that nearly 1,000 dead people had voted in the previous six years, which was used to justify strict voter ID laws. But an 18-month long investigation by the South Carolina law enforcement division showed not a single case of dead voters casting ballots.

Other provisions:

  • Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds;
  • End "Citizens Awareness Month," an annual event where the State Board of Elections runs a voter registration drive;
  • Eliminates public funding for judicial candidates;
  • Increase contribution limits to $5,000 (up from $4,000), with those limits scheduled to rise with inflation;
  • Limit disclosure requirements for issue ads and calls for a study into eliminating 48-hour campaign finance reporting requirements, further cloaking election spending in secrecy.

"Political bullies rigging the election system for their own self interest"

The impact of the North Carolina bill closely resembles a similar omnibus piece of legislation introduced in Wisconsin earlier this year, which like the North Carolina law, would enact voter ID, restrict early voting, and make it harder to register. Wisconsin's bill was also introduced at the last-minute and fast-tracked to minimize debate, although its most egregious provisions were eventually blunted in a compromise with Democrats.

There is no statistically significant incidence of voter fraud, but the legislature's proposal would have a major impact on North Carolina voters, particularly those who tend to vote for Democrats. The bill is expected to sail through the Republican-dominated legislature.

Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina, says the intentions behind the amendments are clear:

"This is political bullies rigging the election system for their own self interest."

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

It makes it easier for candidates to get on presidential primary ballots, and it makes it slightly easier for candidates who can't afford the filing fee to get on primary ballots. The bill abolishes the straight-ticket device, which is good because straight-ticket devices make it very difficult for independent candidates to win. However, the bill also eliminates public funding for judicial candidates, and it removes the box on the state income tax that lets taxpayers send a small donation to the political party of the voter's choice.

On a neutral note, it moves the presidential primary from May to February. And it changes the order of parties on the ballot. Current law always has the Democratic Party on top. The bill changes that so the party that won the governorship in the last election is on top. A good bill would give all parties an equal chance for the top spot on the ballot.

Who lied to you Mr. Winger? What is I wish to vote a straight ticket, you are taking away my right, with you phoney excuse, it gives an independant a chance to win, WHAT IS I DON'T WANT THIS PERSON TO WIN. Do you honestly believe the person listed on TOP always wins, this is not true and a weak GOP excuse. You have been told the wrong information, you should always check to see what you are putting in print is true. With the untruths you are pushing on the internet you are aiding biased and bigots to take our voting rights back decades in the past when thousands had no rights, YOU ARE TRYING TO TAKE AWAY OUR VOTING RIGHTS, NOTHING MORE.

If 318,000 potential voters don't have a state issued ID, how do they live in this great country? You need ID for everything from driving and banking, to buying tobacco and alcohol, which I'm certain at least a portion of this 318,000 partake in at least one of these activities if not all four. I don't really expect a good answer because there isn't one.

If voting is so important to a person they should register well in advance of election day. You know you wouldn't like it if the roles were reversed and 100s of thousands of new republican voters were showing up to register on election day.

Let's look at a quote from this article "Do two possible cases of voter fraud justify imposing new restrictions on 318,000 registered voters who don't have ID, 155,000 voters who registered at the polls, and a majority of voters who voted early?"

If so, then answer the following question. Do a couple of mass shootings justify the infringement of another civil right, exercised by 100,000,000 plus citizens, which is enshrined in the 2nd amendment?

This rampant double standard is sickening.

How can people in certain states hold on to decades of HATE, fairness, double standard isn't an excuse you can use for you ignorance. You don't want any minority or anyone you consider lower than you to have ANY rights. Cheating and using made up bills for your own satisfaction is against the law. You have no right to deny any person the right to vote because you don't feel they are worthy. May God have mercy on you Hateful soul!

There we go again, with the whole list of things you need ID for, that have nothing to do with voting except in the minds of right-wingers who can't seem to distinguish between the right to vote and, say, the right to buy tobacco and alcohol.

Tell you what: don't impede my constitutional right to vote and I won't ever use tobacco or alcohol again; you can have it all and I wish you the joy of it.

Funny how these rugged individualist right-wingers don't think of themselves as having an identity without their wallet full of IDs!

Do two possible cases of voter fraud justify imposing new restrictions on 318,000 registered voters who don't have ID, 155,000 voters who registered at the polls, and a majority of voters who voted early?...Do a couple of mass shootings justify the infringement of another civil right, exercised by 100,000,000 plus citizens, which is enshrined in the 2nd amendment?"

Another typical wingnut moral comparison, a couple of people voting fraudulently and a couple dozen people shot dead.

What does justify a good, long, hard look at the Second Amendment is not just the occasional mass shooting, but the daily grind of gun killings in this country -- one here, two there, three somewhere else, adding up to tens of thousands in a year -- that we've gotten so used to that it takes a huge mass shooting in one venue to get our attention. That is what is "enshrined" in your Second Amendment, and it needs to be amended.