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North Carolina Governor Slaps Down GOP Attempt to Further Suppress Voting (Updated)

Teddy Wilson

"True democracy should make it easier to vote, not harder," Gov. Roy Cooper said.

UPDATE, July 3, 2:17 p.m.: Republicans in the North Carolina legislature last week overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) veto of the state’s new voting restrictions.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the Republican-held legislature’s push for more restrictions on voting while the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear arguments against the state GOP’s gerrymandered electoral map.

Cooper vetoed voting restrictions after Republicans in the North Carolina legislature this month approved changes to when residents could cast their ballot during early voting and debated a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voters to present a photo ID at a polling place. Voter ID laws are discriminatory, as voters with low incomes and voters of color are less likely to have a state ID. 

SB 325 would have eliminate in-person early voting on the Saturday before a primary or a general election, and require that all polling places are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Keeping polling places open 12 hours, instead of the normal eight hours, “forces local elections boards to either hope for more money from the county or open fewer early voting sites,” according to Color of Change PAC, an online racial justice organization. The group said the Saturday before Election Day is “widely used by Black voters” in the state. 

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“Previous attempts like this by the legislature to discriminate and manipulate the voting process have been struck down by the courts,” Cooper said in his veto message. “True democracy should make it easier to vote, not harder.”

The GOP-controlled assembly on June 14 voted along partisan lines to pass the bill, and later that day, the state senate approved the measure down party lines.

Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) said that proposal was intended to create a partisan advantage for Republicans, reported the Associated Press. “It will put a strain on local boards,” Morey said. “We need local flexibility, not the strong arm of the state for political purposes to suppress the vote.”

Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said in a statement that GOP lawmakers were coming back for a “second bite” of voting restrictions after their attempt was rejected by a federal court in 2013.

“This latest proposal not only eliminates the popular, final Saturday of early voting, disproportionately used by African American voters, but also creates onerous requirements that will put a strain on county election officials, disincentivize weekend early voting access, and reduce voters’ options to cast a ballot,” Lopez said. “In addition, it requires that counties report on their list maintenance activity, paving the way for future voter purges.”

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear arguments over whether North Carolina Republicans gerrymandered the state’s 13 congressional districts to give the GOP a partisan advantage, and directed the lower court to both make a determination if voters were harmed by the redrawn maps and whether the plaintiffs have legal standing. 

Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a statement that it was unfortunate the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but that the organization is optimistic that the district court will recognize the “egregious” nature of the partisan gerrymandering.

“The harm done to voters when they are packed and cracked into districts by that discriminate against them based on their political affiliations is clear and we will continue to pursue justice for our clients and all voters who deserve fair election districts,” Riggs said. “We hope to get this case back before the U.S. Supreme Court next term, in time for fair districts for 2020.”

The decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on similar cases of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and Maryland.

Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election won North Carolina’s 15 electoral votesthe first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Democrats controlled the state’s governorship and both chambers of the state legislature from 1999 through 2010, when Republicans swept into power and instituted voter suppression laws. Today there are more than 2.6 million North Carolinians registered as Democrats and less than 2.1 million registered Republicans, yet the GOP holds a 75-45 advantage in the assembly and a 35-15 edge in the state senate.

The court battle over gerrymandered congressional districts is the latest fight over voting rights in North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers in recent years have sought to restrict voting rights with measures that have disproportionately affected people of color and other marginalized communities

Brandi Collins, senior campaign director at Color of Change, told Rewire.News that there has been a “war” waged on marginalized communities, as lawmakers in several states have created barriers to entry into the democratic process. “Why wouldn’t we as a state or country that values democracy, want to make it easy for anyone who wants to participate in that democracy to come out and vote?”

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