Last night, the Republican supermajority in both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate voted in the most sweeping erasure of voters' rights in the past century. Despite fervent, fact-laden, data-driven, and passionate debates from Democratic lawmakers, both houses of the N.C. General Assembly passed HB589: The House vote was 73-41, along party lines, and the Senate vote was 33-14, also along party lines.
The House version of HB 589 started out earlier this year as a two-page voter-ID bill. After the May crossover to the N.C. Senate, the bill came back as a 57-page piece of legislation that would:
- Cut North Carolina's early-voting period from 17 to 10 days, although counties would still be required to provide the same number of hours for early voting -- an unfunded mandate that provides no resources or funds for counties to meet this requirement.
- Prohibit counties from extending early voting hours on the Saturday before Election Day to accommodate crowds.
- End early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, thereby outlawing the widely popular "souls to the polls" get-out-the-vote effort.
- Eliminate same-day voter registration during early voting.
- Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18 (though, of course, they cannot vote).
- End a civics education program that teaches high school students about voting.
- Outlaw paid voter registration drives.
- Eliminate straight-ticket voting.
- Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct.
- Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines. Those in line at closing time would still be allowed to vote.
- Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter, rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered.
- Move the presidential primary to first Tuesday after South Carolina's primary if that state holds its primary before March 15. That would mean North Carolina would have two primaries during presidential elections.
- Study electronic filing for campaign returns.
- Increase the maximum allowed campaign contribution per election from $4,000 to $5,000. The cap will be adjusted for inflation every two years, starting in 2015.
- Loosen disclosure requirements in campaign ads paid for by independent committees.
- Repeal the publicly funded election program for appellate court judges.
- Repeal the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaigns.
These provisions were added to the bill by the N.C. Senate above and beyond the requirement that all voters must present a state-issues photo ID card in order to vote. The Senate also prohibited various types of photo identification from use as a valid ID -- including college/university IDs, photo IDs provided as a service by banks and credit unions, and other types of photo IDs. (Even photo IDs provided by state-run colleges and universities would be inadequate identification.)
Opposition to the bill was strong and heartfelt. In some cases, lawmakers tearfully related stories of older relatives who had fought threats and violence in order to cast their ballots. Other lawmakers brought forward statistics on the numbers of North Carolinians who might be disenfranchised from voting under the terms of the bill.
Many legislators even brought up the fact that Republicans rely on early voting, straight-party ballots, and "souls to the polls" transportation programs.
Some legislators even brought up the point of pride: Why would House members accept the fact that they sent a two-page bill to the Senate and got back a 57-page document that they had only a few days to review and that substantially perverted the initial House bill?
None of it mattered. The votes came along party lines, as expected.
In North Carolina, we mourned last night. We mourned.
But today we awoke to take back our state from the moneyed interests that have placed a price tag (tied to the Consumer Price Index, no less) on the rights of North Carolinians.
The N.C. House, having received back its HB 589 for a vote long after 8 p.m. last night and allotting only two hours to debate the 57-page travesty before passing it, was forced to meet again this morning to finish up the bills before it before adjourning until May 2014. The N.C. Senate had already adjourned last night, the work of its majority party done and relevant backs slapped.
Now we begin. Forward together. Knocked back a few steps, perhaps, but we will not be dissuaded from our destination of voter protection and full voting rights to all citizens of our fine state.
We have avid interest in US Attorney General Eric Holder's plans to mess with Texas and its own new draconian voter-suppression law.
This development hasn't escaped the keen eyes of North Carolina state leaders, though. Our own NC Attorney General Roy Cooper warned the governor not to sign the voter-suppression bill. Which is why the legislature quickly rick-rolled a last-minute attachment into a health-care transparency bill passed by the House and the Senate last night. The new provision allows the Speaker of the NC House and the President Pro Tem of the NC Senate to intervene on behalf of the NC Attorney General on any legal challenge to any North Carolina law.
Cooper has been a terrific attorney general for North Carolina with a sterling reputation for protecting North Carolinians from everything from predatory lending (oh, wait, the GA passed a bill allowing that) to consumer protection (whoops -- the ag-gag bill passed, too) to safeguarding the environment (uh ... Halliburton's secret fracking chemicals are protected in that other new bill ... ).
It's going to be quite a fight indeed.