‘A Real Slap In the Face To the Entire State’
In Cornelius, a devoted voter registration volunteer's dismay over House Bill 589
Pam Dix has lost count of the number of people she’s registered to vote since she moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina in 2007 — the old women in Smithville, the historic African-American community near her Cornelius home; the students at West Charlotte High who could pre-register to cast ballots when they turned 18; the newcomers who just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
When the N.C. House of Representatives passed House Bill 589, the Voter Information Verification Act, on Thursday evening, Dix’s thoughts turned immediately to the practical challenges of getting people registered under a law that would make it considerably harder.
“I just thought, ‘How are we going to help these folks?’ These are folks who have voted every single election, and they will no longer be able to walk into that building and vote,” Dix said, turning and pointing to the Cornelius Town Hall behind her. “It’s wrong.”
It was Friday afternoon. Gov. Pat McCrory was on his way to the Town Hall to sign a bill mandating a redo of Mecklenburg County’s botched 2011 property tax revaluation. That’s not what brought a crowd of about 100 — or me, for that matter — to Catawba Avenue, though.
They were here to protest any number of things, Friday being the last day of a historic session of the N.C. General Assembly: a bill that would effectively reduce the number of abortion clinics in the state to one, in Asheville. A state budget that cuts funding for public education and allows some parents to enroll their children in private schools on the public dime.
But most of all, H.B. 589, which will be in McCrory’s desk for him to sign tomorrow morning. (We can hope the governor can at least brush up on everything the bill would do; as The Associated Press reported Saturday, he hasn’t.) Here’s a breakdown of everything it does, but here’s the nut of it: Requirement of a photo ID to vote, elimination of same-day voter registration and straight-ticket voting and restriction of the early voting period. The people those measures would affect tend to vote Democratic.
“So I thought, ‘What do we do?’” Dix said. “Do we go door to door again and say, ‘Do you have identification? May I see it? What can I do to help you get the documents you need and drive you to Mooresville to the DMV?’ Because there is no public transportation between here and there. It’s just debilitating. It’s …”
She struggled to find the right word. “It’s wrong.”
I could see why Dix, a retired psychotherapist, was so effective in registering voters. She looks precisely like the kind of civic-minded retiree who joins organizations like Leagues of Women Voters: tall, bespectacled, with a shock of short white hair and a kindly, gap-toothed smile that softens a no-nonsense mien. She’s 69, originally from Beverly, Mass., north of Boston, but moved to Florida in the mid-1960s.
When she moved, she did something most curious for a lifelong liberal: She registered Republican.
“At that time, Florida was a one-party state, a Democratic state,” she said, “and I felt that was not American.” (She switched back a few years later, at the dawning of the age of Nixon, then eventually moved back to Massachusetts.)
So she takes this civic responsibility stuff pretty seriously. Her voter registration work began with Barack Obama’s 2007 announcement that he would run for president and persisted throughout the 2010 and 2012 elections. Even as informed and involved as she was, it took her most of the legislative session to grasp how radical the General Assembly had become on all fronts — but especially on voting rights, the issue close to her heart and head.
Here’s Dix’s head talking.
“I think (U.S.) Attorney General (Eric) Holder is our ace in the hole … This will be in court, which I think will put this off until at least ‘16, which gives us ‘14, so the question is, where is our focus going to be to wrest our government back in ’14? And as we saw in other states in ‘12, people were so upset that their franchise was being dismissed, they turned out in droves.”
And here’s her heart, which seemed at least chipped, if not broken.
“I don’t know. I’ve been working on this; I’ve been making phone calls; I’ve been writing letters. I have been working as hard as I can, and somehow I just couldn’t believe that (McCrory and legislators) would do all of this. It’s a real slap in the face to the entire state.”