Will Apple and Amazon want to come to NC with Voter ID?

A sign tells voters a photo ID is not required as hundreds  come out on the first day of early voting at the Hope Mills Recreation Center in Hope Mills on Oct. 20, 2016.
A sign tells voters a photo ID is not required as hundreds come out on the first day of early voting at the Hope Mills Recreation Center in Hope Mills on Oct. 20, 2016. The News & Observer

Too often, our country’s conversation about racism focuses on words. Take the case of Roseanne Barr, whose despicable comments about a distinguished public servant ignited a national conversation about what our nation’s largest and most powerful companies should be willing to tolerate in the way of racist language and ideology. In response, ABC took immediate and decisive action, canceling their most highly rated series within a few hours of Roseanne’s Tweets.

ABC knew it had to do something quickly. Today’s public is closely attuned to the ways our nation’s largest and most prominent companies condone or condemn bigotry and discrimination.

This week, as both Apple and Amazon consider opening new corporate campuses in North Carolina, the technology giants face a similar choice: do they align themselves with the N.C. General Assembly’s attempt to add a discriminatory voter ID amendment to the state Constitution, or do they stand with the people of North Carolina and refuse to enable discrimination?

This amendment is all too similar to a 2013 bill from this same General Assembly, which, less than two years ago, a federal court found to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In its decision, the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the law “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.... [and was] enacted with racially discriminatory intent.”

So-called “voter fraud” is a lie. Voter suppression, however, is real and disproportionately impacts poor black, brown, and white people in states across this nation. To N.C. legislators, it does not seem to matter that photo voter ID laws and limits on early voting are widely acknowledged to be a pretext for racial discrimination.

The longstanding policy of signature attestation, which requires voters to identify themselves under threat of a felony conviction and five years in prison, provides ample security against voter impersonation. But without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby decision, we have little protection against racialized voter suppression.

This type of voter suppression isn’t an unfortunate side effect of well-intended policy; it’s an unjust attempt to erase the voices of millions of eligible mostly black and poor voters — all for the benefit of a few in power. Those impacted are women and men, young and old, black, brown, white, gay, and straight. Because they have been made poor by the policies of those in power, the extremist political forces that hold power in North Carolina may be right to suspect votes of people living in poverty would be against them.

If we stand for this immorality in North Carolina, we will open the door for similar laws all across the country. Just last week we saw the Supreme Court uphold Ohio’s purge of its voting rolls. Black, brown and poor voters are right to suspect that extremist legislators are waging a coordinated state-by-state attack on their freedom to vote.

Apple says, “The best way the world works is everybody in. Nobody out.” And Amazon says, “It’s not only that diversity and inclusion are good for our business. It’s more fundamental than that — it’s simply right.”

To them we say: we agree.

But if they truly embody the morality of their mission statements, then these recent efforts to attack eligible black, brown and poor voters should be taken seriously and inspire decisive action.

Apple and Amazon have a clear choice: they can stand by their stated values or they can stay the course of enabling the N.C. General Assembly as they re-enact Jim Crow-style voter suppression in the state. Make no mistake, history will remember how our leading companies chose to condone or condemn the rolling back of civil rights laws across our country.

The parallel to Roseanne Barr is striking. We can only hope that in the case of racist policy, as well as racist rhetoric, the public, the media, and powerful corporations are just as willing to take a stand.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, as well as the chief architect of the "Forward Together Moral Movement.” Rashad Robinson is the executive director of Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.