Sunday, July 28, 2013

What’s the matter with North Carolina?

North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature has been extremely busy this year, and not in a good way. Here’s what the representatives of that fine state are serving up for their constituents.

Voter Suppression:
The Supreme Court recently gutted the historic Voting Rights Act (see my post for background on the Voting Rights Act and the scope of that Supreme Court decision).

As everyone except five of the Justices foresaw (and that’s giving them more credit than they perhaps deserve), immediately after the ruling, states began flagrantly changing their voting laws. Not to be outdone, North Carolina passed a whole slew of ‘reforms’ intended to make voting more difficult.

Why do I make that claim? Judge for yourself. To begin with, North Carolina enacted strict photo ID laws which may keep over 300,000 eligible citizens from voting. These laws are designed to prevent in-person voter fraud and work on the same principle that enables my wind charms to repel leprechauns. 

Keep in mind that not just any photo ID is acceptable for voting in North Carolina. You can only use a driver’s license, a passport, military or veteran’s ID or a tribal card. No student ID cards. This will make it much harder for students to vote, but Republicans believe that preventing a largely Democratic demographic from voting is a small price to pay to remove the nonexistent threat of in-person voter fraud. 

Don’t think photo ID requirements are the only obstacles put in the path of North Carolinian voters. The Young Turks gives a great run down of what’s been passed in that state. The first minute has the list of changes, the rest is explanation and discussion.

As you can see, between making it harder to register to vote, curtailing early voting, and allowing more intimidation at the polls, the North Carolina legislators are doing everything they can to ensure that as few people as possible cast a vote.

I just want to comment on one new provision. Before this bill, if there were long lines at a polling place, that precinct could be kept open until everyone who was already in line had voted. No more. Now, if you haven’t made it to the ballot box by the time the polls close, you’re out of luck. This is not an unlikely scenario, by the way. During the last election, there were some very long lines to vote. 

Poll waiting times

2012 Presidential Election wait times

Note that these are just median wait times, meaning half the people waited longer, sometimes much longer. How hard do you think it’s going to be for North Carolina to orchestrate the distribution of their polling places so that people only end up getting shut out in Democratic leaning areas?

Closing polling places exactly on time won’t disenfranchise nearly as many people as some of the other changes will, but it goes to the core of this entire legislative package. There is no reason to close polling places in people's faces, or to cut down on early voting, or to eliminate registration drives in schools except to be malicious and to hope that you can prevent people from voting.

Anti-gun control laws:
Congratulations, North Carolinians. You can now bring your loaded weapons not only onto colleges and universities, but also children’s playgrounds, as long as you keep them locked in your car. You can also bring guns into bars and restaurants (though owner’s are allowed to forbid this if they choose). Cities, townships or other subdivisions are prohibited from passing new rules or regulations about concealed carry.

It’s not a free for all over there though. It’s still illegal to bring a gun into the Governor’s mansion, State Capitol or Courts of Justice.  How nice for North Carolina's officials. I’m sure that’s a relief to parents. The creepy guy watching their kids at the playground may only be a few feet away from the gun in his car, but at least the Governor is safe.

Abortion restrictions:
We can’t close without talking about abortion. North Carolina recently passed a motorcycle safety bill. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with abortion. Obviously, motorcycle safety has nothing to with abortion (one hopes). That didn’t stop North Carolina’s legislators from including the following provisions:

  • Insurance plans participating in the new Health Insurance Exchanges cannot pay for abortions (which is interesting because North Carolina is one of the many states refusing to participate in those Exchanges anyway).
  • A doctor has to inform the woman that she’ll be having an abortion 24 hours before she can have the procedure. Just to make sure she clearly understands why she's there.
  • A doctor has to be present during the abortion, even if it consists of handing the woman a couple of pills. 
  • Perhaps most insidious, the bill includes TRAP laws designed to force abortion clinics to close.

A little less than one page about motorcycles was tacked onto the end of this five page bill. Democratic State Rep. and motorcyclist Beverly Earle commented:
I want to let my motorcycle buddies know when I vote against this, it’s not because I don’t care about their safety.
North Carolina already has a law requiring women to have medically unnecessary vaginal ultrasounds. It was part of North Carolina's 2011 Women's Right to Know Act. I guess women in North Carolina have the right to know that their male GOP legislators don't think they should be able to decide what goes into their bodies.

To sum up, North Carolina has passed a trifecta of bills designed to make its citizens much less safe and much less able to complain about it at the polls. However, these gross violations of the public trust have not been lost on North Carolinians, who have been participating in ‘Moral Monday’ protests organized by NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, since April 29th. Each week, citizens gather to protest a particular North Carolina bill and they won’t be running out of things to protest any time soon. The 13th Moral Monday of the year will be held tomorrow.

Moral Monday 13 flyer


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