Before she was allowed to register and vote for the first time in Franklin County, N.C., Rosanell Eaton had to read the entire preamble to the U.S. Constitution out loud in front of three men in the county courthouse. Eaton is black. The three men testing her were white. The time was the early 1940s, when trying to vote was difficult and even dangerous for African-Americans. Contrived “literacy tests” were one of the milder obstacles that were deployed to suppress the black vote in the South. Now 93, Eaton is back in court. This summer she is lead plaintiff in one of two lawsuits brought by the North Carolina NAACP and others to prevent her state from raising a batch of new hurdles to voting in this November’s midterm elections. That lawsuit is one of two filed this month against a package of voter inconveniences signed into law by North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The new law includes cutbacks in early voting, new limits on voter registration, less poll workers’ assistance to voters and new voting requirements such as photo identification.
For example, Eaton fears she could run afoul of a new state requirement beginning in 2016 to show a photo ID at the polling station. The name on her driver’s license does not match that on her voter registration card. That’s not an unusual problem, but, like the old literacy tests, the new rules weigh statistically and suspiciously to the disadvantage of people like her: non-whites, low-income and the elderly, among others.
Similar impediments to minority voting have been enacted or debated in more than 30 other states in a mostly Republican-led drive that picked up steam after President Barack Obama’s 2008 election. “What’s so racist about asking for photo ID?” proponents of photo IDs reasonably ask.
Not much, except when they’re biased, burdensome, ineffective, deceptive and elitist. In fact, if Republicans really want to catch and stop election fraud, they’re barking up the wrong polling place, various independent studies show. Instead of focusing on voter impersonation at polling places, they should be looking at absentee ballots.