In cities across the state, North Carolinians are going to the polls this week to exercise the most fundamental right of our democracy: the right to vote. The underlying principle of our democracy is that we are all equal in the voting booth: black or white, young or old, rich or poor. When we cast our ballot, we all raise an equal voice to determine the shape of our government.
Sadly, some North Carolina legislators seem determined to reduce the chorus of voices that will be heard in the 2012 elections. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed an onerous bill to make voters show a government photo ID when they vote. It may seem like a common-sense requirement, but more people than you may imagine don’t drive or have a photo ID — and they are disproportionately people of color, the elderly, low-income citizens, women who change their names and the young. For example, a match-up of motor vehicle and election databases shows that while African Americans are 22 percent of N.C. registered voters, they are 32 percent of the roughly 500,000 registered voters without a state-issued ID.
Gov. Bev Perdue wisely vetoed the photo ID bill, but Republican legislative leaders say they will keep trying to override her veto this year or next spring, in time for the 2012 election. And that’s not all. The same leaders want to cut the early voting period, eliminate same-day registration, reduce the number of polling sites on Election Day and cut out the convenience of straight-ticket voting.
Our voting rights are now under the largest assault in a century. Nationally, a wave of new restrictive laws will make voting more difficult for as many as 21 million Americans. Many of the laws follow model proposals from ultra-conservative groups, like the J.W. Pope Civitas Institute here in North Carolina. They all reflect an elitist view that voting is a privilege reserved for people with worthy credentials.