May 27, 2013

A century and a half after the Civil War ended, the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature is finishing the destruction Gen. Sherman’s troops never got to visit upon Raleigh, NC. Over 150 people have been arrested at the Legislative Building in four weeks of protests led by the NAACP. A crowd of 600 gathered last week for the latest Moral Mondays protest against a flood of conservative legislation targeting the poor and minority voters.

A few short years after Barack Obama won the state’s electoral votes, Republicans are firmly in control of the legislature and the Governor's Mansion. They are busily unmaking the American Century in what has been one of the South's most progressive states. The Washington Post calls it “a sweeping conservative agenda”:

Legislators have slashed jobless benefits. They have also repealed a tax credit that supplemented the wages of low-income people, while moving to eliminate the estate tax. They have voted against expanding Medicaid to comply with the 2010 federal health-care law. The expansion would have added 500,000 poor North Carolinians to the Medicaid rolls.

In blocking the Medicaid expansion, Governor Pat McCrory’s written statement said, “Before considering Medicaid expansion, we must reform the current system to make sure people currently enrolled receive the services they need and more taxpayer dollars are not put at risk.” Leaving half a million of his constituents at risk? No problemo.

The North Carolina House has passed a law requiring voters to have a government-issued identification card, and legislators are considering bills to roll back the state’s law allowing same-day voter registration and to sharply limit early voting — measures that supporters of the current law say were integral to the high turnout of minority voters in the past several elections.

The Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) – the Republicans’ premier voter ID bill – is still pending in the North Carolina senate. Which of the proposed voting restrictions will make it into the final bill that reaches McCrory’s desk is anybody’s guess. Those that do will then have to survive the inevitable court challenges based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act if Section 5 itself survives Supreme Court review this spring.

This, even as proponents seek to re-erect the kind of barriers to minority voting that existed under Jim Crow. Advocates for the new voting measures argue that the broad anti-discrimination measures in the Voting Rights Act are "outdated in light of racial progress" in the South and no longer needed. The Republican National Committee made similar arguments when it last year in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia to lift a 30 year-old agreement restricting it from engaging in improper election tactics aimed at minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Reuters reported:

The agreement dates to 1982, when the Republican National Committee settled a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee accusing the GOP of trying to intimidate minority voters in New Jersey. Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts.

Among the alleged activities that prompted the original lawsuit: creating voter caging lists and hiring off-duty law enforcement officers to stand outside polling places in minority precincts wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands, some bearing visible firearms. [Emphasis added.]

"If the RNC does not hope to engage in conduct that would violate the Decree, it is puzzling that the RNC is pursuing vacatur so vigorously," Judge Joseph Greenaway wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

The RNC had argued that "the risk of voter fraud outweighs the risk of voter suppression." Neither the New Jersey district court nor the 3rd Circuit were buying it. Plus, the appeal provided the RNC with a rare opportunity to present persuasive evidence in federal court that voter fraud was a significant problem necessitating the sort of voting restrictions now being erected in places such as North Carolina. It failed to do so.

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