Voter suppression is an ugly art form

COMMENTARY: The North Carolina voter ID law recently struck down as unconstitutional was a clear attempt at voter suppression.
Keith Wilson
Keith Wilson

Before the North Carolina General Assembly signed off on the voter ID law a couple of years ago, I sent an email to state lawmakers expressing my displeasure. The thrust of my email was this: Such a law would be unconstitutional and Jim Crow-like and should not be passed.

I received a ridiculing retort from a legislator who took offense at my use of the phrase “Jim Crow-like.” My response to him was much more straightforward and along these lines — as a white man who used to be a Republican, you and I both know what this bill is all about.

After the bill was signed into law, Aasif Mandvi, a member of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” interviewed a Republican Party precinct leader in Buncombe County. Responding to questions, the GOP leader said the law was designed to “kick Democrats’ butts.” Mandvi responded to the leader’s racist remarks, “You do realize we can hear you?”

The precinct leader resigned the next day, with state Republican leadership saying the Buncombe County leader’s remarks did not represent the party’s position.

Far more likely, he resigned because he told the truth, and it embarrassed the party.

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Last summer, in a desperate attempt to ward off a negative court ruling, the General Assembly softened the law. Yet the unconstitutional elements remained. And late last month, a federal appeals court ruled the law unconstitutional, saying its drafters “surgically” devised the law to suppress votes of African-Americans. Now the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oddly, when the General Assembly took its case to the appeals court, attorneys for the state could not cite a single example of voter fraud. Yet voter fraud was their stated reason for passing the law.

While a miniscule amount of voter fraud might exist, The Washington Post in October 2014 reported a “disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud.” The newspaper found that most document cases of voting fraud occurred through absentee ballots, not by individuals casting their votes in person. However, most voter ID laws, like ours, do not address the exposure presented by absentee ballots. So if eliminating voter fraud is the mission, why would a key exposure not be addressed in the North Carolina law?

People who support the law often focus on the ID requirement, but that’s only one part of the law that discriminates. The elimination of same-day registration, fewer early voting days, fewer precincts for early voting and restrictions on students voting on campus all add up to voter suppression.

It took 100 years for African-Americans to finally win the vote as promised following the Civil War. Jim Crow and voter suppression got in the way.

After the Supreme Court decided that certain aspects of the 1965 Voters Rights Act were no longer needed, voter ID laws were passed in multiple states where Republicans control state government, all using cookie cutter language. Four states, including North Carolina and Texas, just had their laws struck down as unconstitutional.

As North Carolina citizens, it is time we say enough is enough and tell this General Assembly to stop using our tax dollars to pay for attorneys in defense of discrimination.

Keith Wilson is registered as an independent voter living in Charlotte. Read his blog at www.musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com. Qcitymetro welcomes reader viewpoints. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.

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