Editorial: Voting law up to challenge?

  • Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 12:54 a.m.

If the new North Carolina voting law merely required voters to show a photo I.D. card, few could argue with it.

But several provisions in the law appear aimed at simply making voting more difficult — cutting back early voting by a week, ending same-day voter registration, accepting a very narrow range of identification. Some experts have called North Carolina’s voting law the most restrictive in the nation.

So it is no wonder the U.S. Department of Justice is challenging the law. Attorney General Eric Holder says new N.C. voting restrictions are intended to suppress voter turnout, especially among minority and low-income voters. Gov. Pat McCrory calls that charge “baseless.” Now the courts will decide.

Instead of battling imaginary voter fraud, the state should be trying to boost participation in the democratic process. Municipal elections are a case in point. The last time Rowan’s cities and towns elected their leaders, in 2011, turnout among eligible voters was 14.52 percent, according to the Rowan County Board of Elections. Broken down by town, participation went from a low of 7.26 percent in the Rowan part of Kannapolis to nearly 23 percent in East Spencer. Salisbury’s turnout was 14.89 percent.

By comparison, more than 66 percent of Rowan voters cast ballots last year, when McCrory won the governorship and President Obama won re-election.

The new voter ID law does not go into effect until 2016, so it should not be a factor in this year’s municipal elections — other than to put a chill on turnout if people are confused about coming restrictions.

The law could just as easily fire people up. The N.C. legislature took a hard-right turn under Republican control this year, spurring moderates and liberals into action. The Moral Monday protests speak for more people than McCrory and company seem to realize.

“We shouldn’t be giving everyday North Carolinians fewer opportunities to make their voices heard while we are giving corporations more opportunities to influence elections,” U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said in a press release Monday. Hagan, a Democrat, first won election in 2008, defeating Salisbury native Elizabeth Dole, then the Republican incumbent. That was the year Obama first won the presidency, and the Republican-led drive to make voting more difficult in many states started soon after.

The majority of voters support requiring a photo ID to vote, but that changes when pollsters ask about the finer details of the law. One poll by Public Policy Polling found 59 percent opposed the early voting reduction, while 68 percent opposed eliminating straight-party tickets, another change in the law. People who have doubts about the legislature’s intentions and the impact of the law welcome the Justice Department’s challenge. The most restrictive voting law in the land should be put to the test before it starts turning people away at the polls.

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