The Color of Disenfranchisement

No sense in mincing words — this is what voter suppression looks like
N.C. House

The North Carolina General Assembly wants to change the law to make it harder for people to vote.

Roll that around in your head for a while. Resist the urge to rationalize it with, "Oh, well, what'd you expect?," or "Maybe there's something to this voter fraud stuff," or "When you make folks work for something, they appreciate it more. Voting's too dadgum easy." Stop. The elected representatives of the people of North Carolina want to make voting harder for the people of North Carolina.

They're called "voting rights" for a reason. You have the right to vote. Voting is not supposed to be a privilege. It used to be, at a time when we considered people fractions of people, non-persons, unpersons. But not anymore. So we thought.

So: House Bill 451, filed Wednesday, sponsored by House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Caldwell County. It would:

  • Cut the early voting period, generally used more by Democrats than Republicans, by a week.
  • Eliminate straight-ticket voting, generally used more by Democrats than Republicans.
  • Discontinue voting on Sunday, used heavily by Democratic voters, generally minorities who vote after church.

It's been happening all over the country for the past couple of years. Read up on it if you haven't already.

Oh, and press coverage? As of this hour, it consists of a five-paragraph brief on the News & Observer's politics blog — one paragraph of which reads, in toto:

The bill could help Republicans.

Yes, it certainly might. In all seriousness, why aren't more people raising hell about this?

UPDATE: "It's hard to imagine the parties will truly suffer over this," says Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer, referring to Gov. Pat's proposal to eliminate the state's volunteer taxpayer check-off program that helps fund political parties.

Maybe not, by itself. But it's another chip off the wall. It has some symbolic significance, too: "Most of the check-off programs around the country were started in the 1970s after the Watergate scandals as a way to reduce the amount of special-interest money financing campaigns."

Heaven forbid. That urge sure has passed, hasn't it? The check-off is a relic of a more innocent time when people still were capable of expressing shock that their government could be bought like so much untreated lumber. In political terms, it's like a vestigial tail. Art Pope has wanted it gone for years. So we might as well lop it off.

"Party registration doesn't reflect voting strength," Pope said in 1989, when he was a legislator and trying to get the check-off repealed. It's a wonderful argument. If your party's outnumbered, claim the numbers are skewed, that a lot of Democrats are really Republicans in pupal stage, and the law should reflect that. Think of the possibilities.