The evil symmetry of the 2013 session

By: - July 23, 2013 11:21 am


Voter suppression proposal would be a fitting conclusion

It appears that we are in the final week of the 2013 legislative session and, as is frequently the case in such circumstances, the state budget debate has been dominating the discussion on Jones Street. By all indications, lawmakers will take up and pass the final two-year budget in the next couple of days and set the General Assembly on the road to adjournment.

Unfortunately, the budget is far from the only major piece of legislation that’s likely to be considered in the session’s waning hours. Indeed, lawmakers appear to be on the verge of a frenzy of activity that will, in the matter of a few short days, reshape North Carolina in numerous important ways for years to come. Barring something unforeseen, legislative leaders will ram through bills that: limit reproductive freedom of the state’s women, dramatically weaken environmental protections and make guns even easier to obtain and brandish.

A radical voter suppression proposal

But the coup de grâce to the 2013 session has to be a proposal that emerged just last night. As noted this morning on The Progressive Pulse blog, the proposal is breathtaking in its breadth and scope:

Just when you thought the 2013 session of the North Carolina General Assembly had hit rock bottom, it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse. Click here to see the worse-than-anyone-would-have-ever-imagined voter suppression bill that has emerged in the state Senate. The new 57 page proposal will be heard this afternoon at 2:00 pm in the Senate Rules Committee.

According to good government advocates who have gotten a chance to examine the proposal after obtaining a copy last night, the bill includes dozens of disastrous provisions including:

  • The end of pre-registration for 16 & 17 year olds
  • A ban on paid voter registration drives
  • Elimination of same day voter registration
  • A provision allowing voters to be challenged by any registered voter of the county in which they vote rather than just their precinct
  • A week sliced off Early Voting
  • Elimination of straight party ticket voting
  • A provision making the state’s presidential primary date a function of the primary date in South Carolina
  • A provision calling for a study (rather than a mandate) of electronic candidate filing
  • An increase in the maximum campaign contribution to $5,000 (the limit will continue to increase every two years with the Consumer Price Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • A provision weakening disclosure requirements for ”independent expenditure” committees
  • Authorization of vigilante poll observers, lots of them, with expanded range of interference
  • An expansion of the scope of who may examine registration records and challenge voters
  • A repeal of out-of-precinct voting
  • A repeal of the current mandate for high-school registration drives
  • Elimination of flexibility in opening early voting sites at different hours within a county
  • A provision making it more difficult to add satellite polling sites for the elderly or voters with disabilities
  • New limits on who can assist a voter adjudicated to be incompetent by court
  • The repeal of three public financing programs
  • The repeal of disclosure requirements under “candidate specific communications.”

Veteran nonpartisan elections advocate Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina – the man who did more than any other independent advocate to bring down the corrupt former Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Black – summarized the proposal this way earlier this morning:

The Senate leadership’s rewrite of H-589 is being taken up at 2 PM today in Legislative Office Building Room 544. It is breathtaking in scope and radical in purpose. It makes the most sweeping changes to the core parts of our state’s election process in decades. In 57 pages, it redefines and restricts who can vote, where, when and how, while also allowing more money to pour into our elections.

It seems fitting that the bill is being rammed through in the final days of the session. The substance and process of this legislation demonstrates a complete disrespect of honest voters. It authorizes vigilante partisan “observers” to roam through polling places and creates new barriers at every turn. The bill will drive more people away from the polling booth, either to not vote at all or to use the mail-in absentee process, which we already know if where most fraud occurs.

This is elitist politics at its worse – political bullies rigging the election process for their own narrow interests. We hope that other Senators and House members will bring the Senate leaders to their senses and stop this legislative madness.”

Hall might have added that, according to preliminary analyses, it is the most ambitious/regressive voter suppression effort in recent American history. If it is passed into law in its present form, the proposal will almost certainly give North Carolina the nation’s strictest election laws and turn back the clock by several decades.

Hall’s analysis also comes just a day after the release of another report panning a less-onerous voter ID proposal which showed that it could negatively impact up to 5% of the state’s voters.

An apt conclusion

Of course, in many respects, there’s a certain evil symmetry to the proposal and an aptness to its emergence in the waning hours of the 2013 session. For the past six months, conservative state leaders have been doing their worst to drag North Carolina back into the mid-20th Century. In area after area, the General Assembly and Governor McCrory have been using banana republic tactics to enact radical, half-baked proposals cooked up in the “think tanks” funded by the state budget director that will erase decades of uneven and frequently painstaking progress.

Now, like thieves covering their tracks, they’re doing everything in their power (in every way they can imagine) to make sure they’re not caught or punished for their actions by limiting the opportunity of voters who might disapprove.

It is a sad and dark moment in state history. Let’s hope caring and thinking people act to reject this treacherous deed as forcefully and rapidly as possible.

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Rob Schofield
Rob Schofield

Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast.