Shawn Rocco/Raleigh News; Observer/TNS
Midterm elections are right around the corner, and in seemingly every corner of the country, states have been trying their utmost to clamp down on minorities’ voting rights — just last week, North Carolina joined that list in dramatic fashion.
A law passed by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature will reduce the number of polling places open for early voting by 20 percent this year. Many see the decision as targeting the voting rights of African American citizens, particularly considering the state’s multiple failed attempts to introduce similar legislation in the past.
North Carolina offers a highly popular 17-day early voting period, which more than 60 percent of voters used in the 2016 election according to the state’s Board of Elections. A group of 2016 laws, which were overturned by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, would have introduced new voter ID requirements and cut the early voting period from 17 to 10 days — a cut which Judge Diana Motz said in her opinion targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision.”
“As ‘evidence of justifications’ for the changes to early voting, the State offered purported inconsistencies in voting hours across counties, including the fact that only some counties had decided to offer Sunday voting,” the 2016 decision read. “The State then elaborated on its justification, explaining that ‘[c]ounties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black’ and ‘disproportionately Democratic.’”
But even though North Carolina lawmakers in the past openly admitted to trying to suppress black voters, some representatives are still trying to justify this year’s shortened voting period as beneficial to voters.
“What we set out with the intention to do is to be able to make it more reliable and dependable that the voters would know that the early voting site or sites in their county was open from a set time in the morning to a set time in the evening,” Republican state Rep. David Lewis, who supported changes to early voting, said during the debate on the bill.
But this bill specifically eliminated days when African Americans were most likely to vote, suggesting it had political and racial motivations. This is simply the latest example of voter suppression masquerading as a necessary policy — and it’s not an isolated incident.
In Georgia, county officials are facing several lawsuits alleging suppression of minority voters. In Gwinnett County, nearly 600 absentee ballots were rejected for various reason and more than half of them belonged to Asian and African Americans.
And in North Dakota earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens must have a street address to register to vote. Since Native American reservations don’t have official addresses, this ruling barred thousands of Native American citizens from voting in the upcoming midterm elections.
Voters who are subject to intimidation can also call the Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE or the U.S. Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline at 1-800-253-3931. For people denied the right to vote, polls are required to issue provisional ballots, which election officials will count if they determine the voter was eligible.
There’s no easy fix to voter suppression. Initiatives like Electionland by ProPublica — which works with local newsrooms to report various voting problems — are the perfect place for suppressed voters to voice their complaints.
But it shouldn’t be up to voters to secure their own most basic rights — it falls on the local, state and federal government to change our system for the better.