My Turn by Keith Townsend: New voter law goes far beyond IDs
President Johnson, in an address before Congress in 1965 concerning the newly enacted Voting Rights Act, declared that “Americans had fought and died for two centuries to defend the principle of government by consent of the governed”. Now, almost a half century later, we are finding that this most basic right in our democracy is again a source of contention. State Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, the Republican legislators who represent Rowan County in Raleigh, along with Republican Sen. Andrew Brock, have voted to enact radical changes in the North Carolina election laws. In fact, Harry Warren is one of the primary sponsors of this legislation which has obviously been designed to suppress voter turn out.
During the general election of 1992, North Carolina ranked 47th out of the 50 states in voter participation. In the election of 2012, because of a concerted effort to encourage voter turnout, North Carolina had risen all the way to 11th in voter participation. You would think this would have been a cause for celebration, but instead, many members of our current state legislature apparently view this surge of civic activity as a threat rather than a sign of progress. According to a July 15, 2013, article in the Salisbury Post, a cumulative total of more than 30 million votes were cast in the last six statewide elections in North Carolina, and during this period there were only two confirmed cases of in-person voter fraud.
There are over 300,000 registered voters in North Carolina who do not possess a drivers license. Many of these citizens are elderly and/or members of a minority group. Also, a college ID has been declared invalid for the purpose of meeting the requirements for voter eligibility, even though virtually every college ID includes a photograph and most are probably more current than a student’s drivers license. President Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by a mere 14,000 votes. You do not have to be a political insider to understand the intent of this law.
It is ironic that this legislation is popularly known as the voter ID law since most of the 47 page bill has nothing whatsoever to do with discovering the identities of voters. Instead, the law creates a host of provisions that will make the process of voting more difficult for many people. These new changes include an end to same-day registration during the early voting period. The early voting period itself has been shortened by a week, even though the same number of hours will be available. Longer but fewer days to vote will clearly be yet another inconvenience for many voters. Voting a straight party ticket will no longer be allowed. Even a popular high school civics program which allowed students to pre-register before their 18th birthday has been discontinued.
While this law has made the voting process much more restrictive for voters, it has actually watered down legal requirements for the candidates. Political committees and candidates no longer have to identify themselves on the air as sponsors of television and radio ads. The state sponsored election guides, which have been extremely useful to voters, especially when trying to decide who to support among non-partisan candidates for judgeships, will be discontinued after its current funding is depleted.
Politicians being afraid of the political will of their own constituents is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong in our civic life. While Harry Warren, in a display of false bravado, may have declared the Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina’s new election law to be frivolous, he should know that there is nothing trivial about the right to vote. As President Johnson pointed out, throughout our history Americans have over and over again suffered and even died to obtain and keep the right to vote. It is our obligation to protect the election process so that all North Carolinians can freely participate. I urge everyone to contact their representatives and help them understand that we will not tolerate policies which undermine American freedoms.
Keith Townsend is a retired history teacher who taught at West Rowan High School.
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