To Allison Riggs, a voting rights lawyer, North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District looks like an octopus with its arms stretched menacingly in all directions. Each arm, Riggs says, sucks in black voters to pack them into the district and dilutes their voting strength in nearby districts — “a cynical strategy to disenfranchise blacks.” With Republicans adding the governor’s mansion last fall to their control, on top of the North Carolina Legislature, Riggs and other civil rights activists have counted on protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to prevent GOP geographical empire-building through redistricting. Nine states and parts of six others, including 40 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, were covered by a provision of the legislation that required federal approval of any changes in election laws. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision Tuesday gutted the law, striking down the so-called preclearance provisions, and Republican leaders here already are revving up to push through voting procedure changes.
The GOP chairman of the state Senate rules committee, Sen. Tom Apodaca, said he would move quickly to pass a voter ID law that Republicans say would bolster the integrity of the balloting process. GOP leaders also began engineering an end to the state’s early voting, Sunday voting and same-day registration provisions, all popular with black voters. Civil rights groups say the moves are designed to restrict poll access by blacks, who vote reliably Democratic.
The moves are only the first indication that the ruling will have “a demonstrably negative impact on voters of color,” said Riggs, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The group already has a 2-year-old lawsuit pending that alleges racial discrimination in the 1st District and three dozen other North Carolina districts redrawn by Republicans.
Apodaca said the previous requirements for federal preclearance caused “legal headaches” in passing such measures as voter ID in response to legitimate concerns over voter fraud. It’s time, he told reporters, to bring the Voting Rights Act “into this century, not the last century.”