Editorial: Blatant bid to block votes

Published 12:12 am Sunday, August 21, 2016

The lament goes up after every election — why don’t more people vote? Nationwide, voter turnout in presidential elections fell from 62 percent in 2008 to 57.5 percent in 2012. What would it take, people ask, to get more U.S. citizens to participate in the democratic process — mandatory voting?

How backwards that must seem to Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the state Republican Party, and like-mindedpeople. He’s doing his best to make sure fewer people have an opportunity to vote.

Woodhouse sent an email last week to Republican appointees on boards of elections around the state, urging them to “make party line changes to early voting.” He suggested boards cut early voting hours, allow no Sunday voting and turn down requests for polling places on college campuses. All those voting methods attract more Democrats than Republicans, so Woodhouse and company are working to minimize or eliminate them.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country in 2013. A panel of federal appellate judges rejected the law on the grounds that it targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” The ruling restored a week of early voting, which the Rowan County Board of Elections decided to hold at one polling place, in the elections board at West End Plaza. The ruling also brings back preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect.

Republicans claim that long periods of early voting, preregistration for teens and out-of-precinct voting increase voter fraud, a red herring if there ever was one. Very few instances of voter fraud have been found in North Carolina. Instead, it sounds as though Woodhouse is trying to use “almost surgical precision” to accomplish through local election boards what the court won’t allow via legislation — keep as many Democrats away from the polls as possible.

Then there’s the matter of requiring a photo identification to vote. If an ID were the only new requirement, it might be reasonable. But in the context of all the sweeping changes in the law, which was struck down, and the continuing, partisan effort to limit voting, fraud looks more like a convenient excuse. What does it say about a party when it finds strength not in broadening its own scope but in restricting access to the polls for others?

There’s your sign, as they say — the answer to the puzzle of why many people decline to vote. If the laws don’t block them, cynicism will. It’s hard to trust a system so fraught with political manipulation.

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