Sad but necessary

By Abbi Overfelt

October 2, 2013

To the list of horribles delivered upon North Carolina’s good name by this current crop of Republicans now can be added the humiliation of being sued by the federal government for curtailing the voting rights of blacks.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in announcing the lawsuit Monday, said he took the action “more in sorrow than in anger.” And a sad occasion it was for a state justly proud of its progress in civil rights to be returned to the battlefield of federal enforcement and Southern state resistance. North Carolina has been taken there by the GOP leadership in the General Assembly and a Republican governor whose laws and policies are taking the state backward on many fronts, including taxation, education funding, abortion rights, environmental protection, health insurance for the working poor and support for the unemployed.

But this instance of rewinding history is particularly sensitive and damaging. Among North Carolina’s greatest achievements stands the ability of its people and its government to rise beyond the prejudice of the Jim Crow era and the poll taxes and literacy tests that marked it.

After that period of voting restrictions, North Carolina developed a system that encouraged voting by all. It adopted early voting, same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and did not require that voters present a photo ID. As a result, North Carolina rose from the bottom 12 states for voter turnout during all of the 20th century to 22nd in 2008 and 11th in 2012, a modern record high for North Carolina.

Blacks make up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, but in the 2012 election they accounted for 29 percent of those who voted early in-person and 34 percent of the same-day registrations by people voting for the first time in a county. And of the 318,600 registered voters who, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, do not appear to have North Carolina driver’s licenses or DMV IDs, 34 percent are black. The changes in the voting law affect black voters to a disproportionate extent. That was the intent.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice has lent its power to complaints filed by others over this bald attempt at voter suppression. If they can win, so will North Carolina.