Voter ID Laws: “Call it like it is …”

Like many citizens, I’ve been peripherally keeping my eye on the national movement for Voter ID laws but haven’t been too concerned.  What about our budget crises? Government shutdown?  Libya?

In recent weeks, however, I have started to pay more attention in North Carolina because I read the proposed NC House Bill 351 (S352).  This law would immediately disenfranchise nearly half a million active lifelong voters in North Carolina, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of inactive or new voters.

Notably, the bill would drastically affect one of my favorite parts of registering voters with HeadCount … signing up 17-year-olds who will be 18 “on or before election day.”  I have countless wonderful memories over the past 7 years of registering voters in this category for the first time when they were at concerts with their parents.

In addition to eliminating registration of eager 17 year olds, the proposed bill would affect college students as they would not be able to use their student ID or out-of-state ID at the polls; it would turn away newcomers and young professionals by eliminating on-site registration during the early voting period; it would deter elderly, homeless and veterans who may not have valid driver’s licenses or be able to locate their Social Security Card or Birth Certificates in order to obtain a state-issued ID; and it would impact the poor who cannot afford the fees associated with getting updated documentation to secure a state issued photo ID.

I now know that the proposed NC Voter ID Bill isn’t just about having people verify their identity at the polls, which while a hassle, seems like a simple enough request.  Anything to stop voter fraud, right?

Wrong. First, you should know that there isn’t a significant problem with voter fraud in North Carolina.  This bill takes every measure possible to make voting and registration harder and more complicated and doesn’t even address the few instances of voter fraud that have occurred.

This morning I joined many North Carolinians of all ages and races at a nonpartisan rally on the steps of our General Assembly to speak out against the Voter ID Law.  The line of speakers included college students, homeless, elderly, disabled veterans, elected officials and many more.  Each affected demographic talked about how the proposed law would make voting hard or impossible for their peers.

North Carolina NAACP President Reverend Doctor William Barber II closed out today’s rally with a series of cries for justice beginning with “call it like it is.”  I keep playing his cry that “Voter ID laws are nothing but nuanced Jim Crow … we should CALL IT LIKE IT IS” over and over in my mind.

And he is right.  It is time to call it like it is.  46 years ago our country passed the Voting Rights Act to give African American citizens the right to vote.  That is in the lifetime of our parents, grandparents, teachers and friends.  But we’re forgetting that fight as we glaze over the racist Voter ID legislation that is sweeping states across our country.  We’re forgetting that these Voter ID Laws violate the 15th Amendment, which prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "racecolor, or previous condition of servitude" (i.e., slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870. And here we are again with a concerted effort to keep minorities and certain populations from the polls.

NC House 351’s title, “Restore Confidence in Government,” really says it all.  This bill is sponsored by 4 white women and 29 white men to restore confidence that only people like them will be able to vote and be elected.  State Representative Larry Bell called out the sponsor’s hypocrisy on the steps of the General Assembly today … “Let them resign if the voting process is so fraudulent!” How can the sponsoring representatives and senators claim that they were voted in this year to represent the needed change in our legislature and also claim that they have no confidence in the voting process?  We must speak to the illogical nature of the Voter ID Bills and “call it like it is.”

According to a nonpartisan study by Democracy NC, the direct effect of “Restore Confidence in Government” will lead to a decrease in ability to vote as follows:

Demographic Increased Chance of Being without ID/Unable to Vote
African American 48%
Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Other 24%
Elderly over 65 64%
Women 17%
Democrats 29%

These numbers are the harsh reality of disenfranchisement.  How can the sponsors of this bill think we will be so blind as to ignore that they are proposing targeted legislation?

Let’s be brave and face the truth. Racism, ageism, classism, these are forms of discrimination and it is time to “call it like it is.”

Let’s get outraged.  Let’s face the fact that these reactive laws are destroying our country’s history of democracy that REQUIRES EQUALITY IN VOTING!  I’m one that believes our system works when everyone votes. Do you? Why would we put up roadblocks? More importantly, why would we sit around and allow a few to reverse our history of action and struggle for equal voting rights?

Voter ID laws aren’t just going to go away or not really effect the process.  These laws are a tragic backwards step for democracy that is motivated by a fear of diversified voters.  I don’t want to be another 30-year-old white girl afraid to “call it like it is.”