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States Get Shady In Effort To Control The Vote

The U.S. Justice Department (DoJ) followed through last week on a promise to challenge a new North Carolina voter suppression law that makes it more difficult for disadvantaged residents to vote. But the job of taking on states attempting to chip away at voting rights for all now that the Supreme Court has emasculated the federal law is likely to keep them busy for the foreseeable future.

In appealing four parts of the state’s recently enacted law, Attorney General Eric Holder said North Carolina had imposed improper restrictions that would slash the amount of early voting days; eliminate same-day registration during early voting; require photo identification for in-person voting; and prohibit the counting of provisional ballots. The government rightfully argues the law would result in unequal participation at the polls.

“By restricting access and ease of voter participation, this new law would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise,” Holder stated. “And it is especially troubling that the law would significantly narrow the early voting window that enabled hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, including a disproportionally large numbers of minority voters, to cast ballots during the last election cycle.”

The stance taken by Holder and the DoJ goes beyond just voting rights – it’s about our democracy.  Sadly, though, other states are still trying to weasel their own ways to cut certain people out of participating in this country’s most hallowed right.

Arizona and Kansas are currently in the midst of setting up two-tiered election system that would allow those who registered to vote without a photo ID to vote for federal offices but not state or local. See, the Supreme Court ruled against both states in June, saying they couldn’t have more restrictive registration standards than federal law. But since it only applied for federal races, they are now trying to put in place different standards for the other elections.

A memo sent by Kansas State Election Director Brad Bryant to county election officials in July and acquired by Talking Points Memo explains:

“As the Supreme Court made clear, its decision applies only to ‘federal registration forms’ and covers only federal elections,” he wrote. “States remain free to require proof of citizenship from voters who seek to also vote in state elections.”

This intentional circumventing of the spirit of the law shows the true intentions of officials from many states who want to limit the ability of voters fitting a certain profile from getting to the polls. So it is good to see that there are some who are fighting back against such efforts.

In North Carolina, for example, young people are leading a project called NC Vote Defenders that is aimed to ensure all eligible voters can exercise their rights at the ballot box. For now it is targeting its efforts at students by setting up shop at polling places near several universities. And members realize the fight to ensure people get to the polls is not in their state alone.

“Voter suppression and our new voting laws are not just affecting North Carolina,” said Lela Ali, a student at North Carolina State University. “This state has become a testing ground for regressive voting restrictions that take us back in time. If these are not challenged, both in the courtroom and in our communities, other regressive state legislatures will take notice and be ready to introduce their own restrictive voting laws – modeled on N.C.”