North Carolina Republicans went back to the drawing board after their attempts to curtail voting in 2013 were struck down by federal judges last year as racially discriminatory, and it appears the state’s conservative lawmakers believe they have found a viable workaround.
According to The New York Times, Republicans are hoping to eliminate the last day of early voting – which draws a large percentage of black voters – and institute a photo ID requirement for all voters, among other plans.
In addition, party leaders say they are preparing a constitutional amendment that would curb the power of the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, over the state board that controls election procedures.
Although they failed in their last attempt, Republicans have come up with a different path to achieve their goals:
The voter ID amendment would require approval by citizens as well as legislators. The final Saturday of voting has been popular — nearly 200,000 citizens voted on that day in 2016 — and African-Americans turned out at a rate 40 percent greater than their share of the electorate. But the bill to eliminate that Saturday would apportion those lost hours among other early voting days, so the total hours of polling would not change.
Opponents call that a smoke screen, and say the legislation is crafted to curtail early voting by requiring local election officials to staff every polling place 12 hours a day for all 17 days of the early voting period. Many election offices will struggle to find enough volunteers to meet that schedule, they say, and will be forced to close early voting sites to comply.
The Times notes that North Carolina’s upcoming November vote is a “blue moon” election – the term residents use when only obscure judicial contests are on the state ballot.
This usually results in lower turnout, meaning if Republicans can entice conservative voters to hit the polls, they stand a good chance of passing the voter legislation.
The Republican-led Legislature appears likely to add to the ballot constitutional changes devised to attract conservative voters. The voter ID measure is one. Another would cap the state income tax rate. Still another would make a so-called right-to-work provision part of the state Constitution.
A fourth would guarantee a constitutional right to “hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.”
Gerry Cohen, a longtime counsel to the Legislature who is now a private consultant, believes Republicans face losing their supermajority and are trying to pass as much legislation as possible before it becomes a reality.
But he’s not sure the plan will work:
“They think voter ID will gin up conservative Tea Party turnout,” he said. “I think the effect will be to greatly increase black voter turnout,” given the strong reaction among African-Americans to the 2013 voter ID law.