Op-Ed

Voter ID on the N.C. ballot is about suppression, not fraud

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

In May of last year the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that struck down the North Carolina’s voter ID law as an unconstitutional effort to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

As a result, the argument that a voter ID law was necessary to eliminate voting fraud was soundly defeated. There was a conclusion that if this law passed, it would cause irreparable damage black voters.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal on this far-reaching, mean spirited and misguided attempt by the extreme members of the Republican Party had finally buried this ghost once and for all. As Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said at the time, “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

At least that’s what he and many others thought. However, here we are again, watching far-right conservatives trying to revive the ghost that has haunted millions of African Americans for more than a century – the specter of voter suppression. Now the new trick is putting a question on the November ballot asking whether a voter ID law should become part of the state Constitution.

This is just another ploy to play on the emotions of the general populace. The proposal to add such an amendment is both baffling and cunning. It energizes the passions of a few and weakens the faith of those who put their trust in the democratic process.

The assumption that voters will agree to have a voter ID requirement enshrined in the North Carolina Constitution is based on questionable premises.

For one, it assumes that the majority of voters think there is widespread voter fraud. Most do not. The evidence shows that there is no widespread voter fraud in the state. In 2016, only one case of voter fraud was discovered.

Second, putting a voter ID law on the ballot supposes that this is the will of the people. We know this is not true. The vast majority of North Carolinians are satisfied with voting the way it is now. Why spend tax dollars trying to fix something that is not broken? The only plausible answer is that the Republican legislative leaders, desperate to remain in power, are willing to suppress and disenfranchise minority groups that typically vote Democratic.

Anyone who is willing to suppress the votes of an entire population, whose slave ancestors labored from sun up to sundown for nearly 300 years to make America great, must be extremely power hungry. To deny one’s fellow citizens full participation in the voting process without a reasonable explanation – and no explanation is reasonable in this effort – can only be seen as a way to rig the system for political gain. It is my belief that such a scheme will not be supported by fair-minded voters.

Tampering with the state Constitution for political gain is dangerous and threatening. Only a handful of states that have tried this tactic have been successful. Further, if this proposed amendment is added to the state Constitution, what will those who want to curtail the rights of others add next?

Another faulty premise is that everyone can easily obtain an ID card. Republican lawmakers want voters to trust that once the amendment is passed they will impose fair requirements for what is an acceptable form of voter ID. The problem is that they have demonstrated time and time again that they can’t be trusted. Who’s to say that a driver’s license will even be accepted?

The issue is not about preventing fraud. It’s about preventing voting. It’s another way to discriminate against the very people who have been called upon again and again to make North Carolina the great state that it is. It is an attempt at promoting white privilege while demoting the privileges and rights of others.

Nonetheless, I have great faith in the people that they will reject this kind of political gamesmanship. My faith is that they won’t do the dirty work for repressive legislators and disenfranchise the people they have grown to respect and appreciate. Voters must ask themselves, is this act morally justified? And the reality is that it is not.

Dr. Earl C. Johnson is a local author and activist and founder of The Dream Center.

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