In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision, which gutted significant portions of the Voting Rights Act, it’s difficult to say which of the many recently passed voter suppression bills constitutes the greatest threat to that most sacred of American freedoms: the right to vote. The contest has several leading contenders, but the winner just might be North Carolina’s especially draconian bill, signed into law on Monday.
The bill includes the usual provisions that have come to characterize the quiet assault on the franchise: a shortened early voting period, the elimination of the state’s successful same-day registration program and, of course, a strict photo identification requirement despite any evidence of voter fraud in the state.
What makes this law unique is how much further it goes. It includes no fewer than 12 extra provisions that prohibit such things as counties extending polling hours by one hour in the event of unusual circumstances (such as, say, long lines); provisional voting should someone, say, mistakenly go to the wrong precinct; and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who could previously register to vote before they turned 18.
The bill is a truly abominable piece of anti-democratic legislation, the only likely effect of which will be to make it increasingly difficult — maybe even impossible — for some people who don’t typically support Republicans to be able to vote. Sadly, none of that seemed to bother Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed it into law regardless.
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“This new law brings our state in line with a healthy majority of states throughout the country,” the governor said in a statement. “This common sense safeguard is commonplace.” McCrory is correct that laws like the one he signed are increasingly commonplace, but the only thing common about them is their lack of sense.
States do have a valid interest in ensuring that voters are who they say they are, but the same states that so vehemently defend these laws typically provide little assistance for those who lack the necessary documentation. In fact, if defending the franchise were really the intent, these laws would include positive measures that helped citizens meet new requirements instead of a laundry list of restrictions unrelated to a voter’s identity.
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to challenge a similar voting law in Texas, even after the Shelby decision. Let’s hope he does the same with North Carolina’s law. Equal access to the franchise is a fundamental pillar of American democracy, and it deserves nothing less than the strongest federal protections.