Two weeks into the hearing over North Carolina’s 2013 election laws, we have reached some conclusions.
For starters, mainstream media coverage has been disappointing. Not only is there a lack of depth, but it appears one-sided in favor of the plaintiffs. An example: The media reported that woman, who went to vote (at a precinct where she was not registered) complained that her 2014 provisional ballot was not counted. She explained her out-of-precinct vote saying she moved around a lot so she didn’t bother to change her registration, could not get off work to vote and had to pick up her “babies.” Under further questioning she revealed she had lived in the same house for three years and that her “babies” were 19 and 21 years old, facts not reported.
Liberal media bias? More likely the inadequate coverage comes from the lack of seasoned reporters and the reductions most newsrooms, especially newspapers, have suffered.
Was the intent of the legislature to restrict minority and student voting? It is impossible to prove intent but it is highly likely. When Democrats were in charge their intent was to pass laws that made it easier for minorities to vote, because minorities vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Republicans, wanting to win those elections for their party, passed laws to encourage their followers and discourage Democratic voters, but since they’ve gerrymandered the districts the outcome is almost guaranteed.
The charge has been frequently made that the laws curbing early voting, eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting are disadvantaging minorities. Heck, they are making it more difficult for everyone. There was most assuredly confusion resulting from the court cases prior to the 2014 elections but was this just about race? If that can be proved it is unacceptable. Is it unconstitutional? We doubt that it is.
So far we haven’t heard any new and startling revelations coming from this trial, so U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder will hear the 90 hours of testimony, deliberate an appropriate period of time and issue his verdict. We suspect we already know it because he telegraphed his opinions last July in allowing the law to stand. What we have learned is that once you provide a benefit to someone it is difficult, if not impossible, to restrict or eliminate it.
Here are our questions. Why discourage any voters? Why not make elections as voter-friendly as possible? We want to minimize fraud, but Kim Strach, head of the Board of Elections, testified there’s little evidence of voting fraud. Costs are also a consideration but we’re not aware of any cost-benefit analysis showing the 2013 laws were justified. And aside from the fact that legislators were told they were likely to lose in court we still don’t understand why the Voter ID provisions were recently relaxed.
If our legislature did not intend to suppress voting or discriminate they can prove it with some good-faith steps, such as expanding the voter registration deadline to two weeks before the election, allowing online registrations, increasing the number of IDs that are acceptable and perhaps even requiring that employees be given time off work to vote.
Voting is a privilege, one of the undeniable rights for which our founders and subsequent generations fought. There’s nothing wrong in asking people to make some effort to exercise this right but we need to zealously ensure that we do not discriminate against anyone or suppress voting. The more who participate, the better the chances that the party and candidate with the best ideas will win.
Tom Campbell is the executive producer and moderator of N.C. Spin