Groups protest efforts to limit early voting

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMarch 29, 2013 

— A coalition of groups, led by the NAACP, Friday denounced legislation that would make it harder to vote in North Carolina, promising to wage a vigorous campaign against the proposed new restrictions.

The group criticized Republican-backed bills that cut early voting by one week, end Sunday voting, end same-day registration at early voting sites and end straight-party voting.

“These bills are about politicians manipulating elections for their own partisan gains,” said the Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president. “These bills will block hundreds of North Carolinians from voting.”

He said a similar law in Florida led to eight-hour lines for voters last year and that, according to one study, 200,000 people gave up and didn’t vote.

Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said a similar law was struck down in Ohio.

House Majority leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, and Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, introduced bills this week that would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one week.

Starnes’ bill, House Bill 451, is more sweeping in that it also ends Sunday voting, same-day registration and straight-party voting.

Barber said a coalition of groups would consider a range of activities to oppose the bills, including legal challenges, lobbying efforts and, if necessary, even civil disobedience, just as the civil rights movement used in the 1960s.

“The citizens that will be hit hardest by these changes are people of color, veterans, young people and the poor,” Barber said.

The backdrop for the legislation, Barber said, is that North Carolina had the largest increase in voter participation between 2004 and 2008 of any state in the country.

Riggs said the end of Sunday voting seemed directed at “Souls to the Polls,” an effort to encourage those attending black churches to vote after the service.

Neither Starnes nor Tillman could be reached for comment Friday.

Although anybody can engage in early voting, Democrats have used it more extensively as a political tool than Republicans.

In 2012 general elections, 1.2 million Democrats participated in early voting in North Carolina, compared with 765,683 Republicans, according to figures compiled by Democracy North Carolina.

Democrats also had the advantage in same-day registration, with 46,691 Democrats registering on the same day they vote, compared with 25,868 Republicans.

The GOP legislation would make one aspect of voting easier, however – mail-in absentee voting. The bills allow a person to pick up multiple absentee applications. During the November election, Republicans mailed in 108,522 absentee ballots, while Democrats mailed in 62,210 absentee ballots.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina said the fact that the GOP lawmakers are trying to restrict voting tools that have favored Democrats, while expanding voting tools that favor Republicans shows the partisan nature of the bill.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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