The Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling against reinstating same-day registration and counting out-of-precinct votes serves as a stark reminder that it is time for everyone outraged by the ongoing war against voting to call this coordinated attack for what it is: dishonest, unjust and racist. Harsh words, perhaps, but the shoe fits.
The rationale for voting restrictions is restoring public confidence in the integrity of our elections. The problem is that reasons to lack confidence in their integrity have been fabricated, largely out of whole cloth. Major studies have repeatedly failed to unearth anything other than infinitesimal evidence of voter fraud, and states defending their laws restricting voting rights – including North Carolina – have not brought forward evidence to support their claims that it is a problem.
We’ve heard the quotation, attributed to Vladmir Lenin, that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Anyone who pays attention to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or most of the Republican delegations in Raleigh and Washington has heard one conspiracy theory after another for years now about how Democrats are out to steal elections, and these stories often revolve around the inherent political corruption in urban areas with high percentages of voters of color. It’s easy to understand why folks are nervous about rigged elections when the likelihood of them is promoted as inevitable and sold as if they reflect an inherent flaw in the character of a substantial percentage of the electorate.
Given the opportunity, the North Carolina legislature restricted opportunities to vote in-person, where evidence of fraud is virtually non-existent, and did not restrict opportunities to vote absentee, where evidence of actual fraud has persisted for decades. The difference is that allowing early voting, same-day registration and counting ballots cast out-of-precinct are more likely to boost African-American turnout, which is more Democratic, while absentee voting boosts white turnout, which is more Republican.
Voting is not a partisan matter. It’s the cornerstone of democracy. In its zeal for reducing voting among groups it mistrusts, our legislature even discontinued pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. Raise your hand if you think that getting young people signed up to vote is a bad idea.
The registration and voting procedures now outlawed in North Carolina pose no threat to election integrity, but they do pose a threat to partisans. Sadly, their demise also poses a growing threat to the principles of democratic participation we were all taught in grade school and for which men and women are still asked to fight and die.
People fought and died in our own state for the right to vote. If the measures recently enacted in North Carolina and many other states to reduce voting had been enacted not long after passage of the Voting Rights Act, the reaction would have been massive civil resistance. It’s time we react in the same way today to the many threats to democracy in our election, campaign and lobbying laws.
Thankfully the Moral Monday movement has effectively mobilized resistance, albeit not yet on a scale that fully reflects the disgust so many feel that rights we believed were secured in 1965 are now diminished. In the meantime, comparable nations continue to modernize their registration and election systems, and most enjoy far higher rates of voter participation than the appallingly low rates we see in our own country.
Rather than fighting for crumbs from the table, we should be fighting – by any peaceful means necessary – for reforms that make our state and nation more democratic, not less. We can win the war against voting, but more need to join in.
Pat McCoy is the executive director of Action NC, whose mission is to confront and reduce the root causes of poverty, underdevelopment and social and economic inequality.