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North Carolina's Stunning Attacks on Working Families, Democracy

J. Mijin Cha

The North Carolina legislature has had a remarkable session. In fact, the amount they have been able to accomplish is almost jaw-dropping—not because it was particularly productive but because it was so bold and unabashed it its attack on low and middle income families and basic elements of democracy. Among the legislative lowlights:

  • levying a flat income tax so that a taxpayer earning $40,000 a year will pay the same income tax rate, 5.75 percent, as someone making $1 million in 2015
  • making it harder to get an abortion,
  • offering less generous unemployment benefits,
  • giving low-income families vouchers for private schools,
  • requiring fewer government regulations on businesses,
  • resuming executions for capital crimes and
  • allowing concealed handguns in bars and restaurants.

The legislature also passed legislation that implements significant barriers to voting, including new photo ID requirements, shortening the early-voting period before Election Day, ending same-day registration, and prohibiting high school students from pre-registering to vote before their 18th birthdays. Demos’ President, Miles Rapoport, warned of the disastrous consequences of these actions.

Yesterday, the North Carolina legislature turned back the clock on the freedom to vote to the pre-civil rights era. Its repeal of Same Day Registration (SDR); drastic reduction of early voting; imposition of a strict, government-issued photo ID requirement for voting; and other rollbacks will create huge new barriers to the vote for thousands of North Carolinians.

These extreme measures will fall most heavily on African Americans and other communities of color. Forty-one percent of the 250,000 North Carolinians who used SDR to register and vote in the 2012 presidential election were African American. Nearly half of African Americans who voted last November did so during the early voting period. And study after study has shown that people of color are less likely than others to have current driver’s licenses, the most common form of photo identification.

There is no real justification for these voting restrictions. While voter fraud is often used as the justification, even more and updated evidence shows that voter fraud is not an issue in North Carolina. Of the nearly 7 million ballots cast in 2012, 121 alleged cases of voter fraud were referred to the appropriate district attorney’s office. Or, in other words, potential voter fraud accounted for 0.00174 percent of all the ballots cast in 2012. In 2010, potential voter fraud accounted for 0.000738 percent of ballots cast. These numbers, by the way, are not convictions, just cases that were forwarded for investigation. It is very possible that there will be no, zero, convicted cases of voter fraud in 2010 or 2012.

For all the millions he has spent to influence the legislature and get ultra-conservative candidates elected, this session really paid off for Art Pope. Now, if we could only forget about the huge losses for millions of struggling North Carolinians and the evisceration of any sense of a fair, democratic process...