Voting restrictions draw criticism

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 05:25 PM

Local leaders oppose two similar bills in the N.C. General Assembly to reduce early voting programs.

Last week, Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph filed a bill to cut early voting periods from two weeks to one week and end same-day registration. Rep. Edgar Starnes filed a similar bill that would end Sunday voting and stop straight-party voting.

Political groups were quick to criticize the bills as partisan by making it harder for traditionally Democratic voters, like African-Americans and young people, to vote.

Though the bills do not explicitly state it, they are designed to discourage certain groups from voting, said Diane Little, acting chair of the Union County Democratic Party. Record numbers of state residents of all parties participated in the 2012 election and made it possible for young people, older people, people who work full-time or others who cannot take Election Day off to stand in line to cast ballots.

North Carolina approved early voting in 2000 and same-day registration began in 2007. In 2012, more than 54 percent of all votes statewide were made at early voting sites.

“To be an American means you should never inhibit another American in their right to vote,” Little said. “Early voting has made it possible for so many more people to vote, and it’s wrong to take that away. I think its unpatriotic.”

It is difficult to not take the proposals personally, Little said. Generations of African-Americans fought for and died for the right to vote and it is a right granted to minorities only a short time ago, Little said.

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Over Easter weekend, several civil rights and political groups protested the bills in Raleigh, adding to the nationwide attention drawn to the legislation. The Washington Post published an April 1 story about North Carolina politics. The change in early voting was just one of the actions and proposed laws coming out of Raleigh that have lately drawn ire from minority groups.

Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. R-Rockingham said Sunday that early voting increased the state’s costs substantially, according to the Associated Press. Same-day registration carried a risk of misidentification and voter fraud, he said. And Sundays, he said, “traditionally has not been a politicized time frame.”

Little said the push to end Sunday voting is a direct attack on African-American churches which encouraged congregations to vote on the Sunday before election day.

“It became known as the ‘souls to the polls’ where pastors asked their congregations to make voting a priority,” she said.

Instead of halting a successful program, the right thing to do is finding ways to make early voting more efficient and affordable, Little said.

“I think this is a move to get a permanent Republican majority in Raleigh,” she said.

Regional Democratic caucuses and African-American groups are mobilizing opposition to the bills, Little said.

Ernest Walker of is the vice president of the N.C. Monroe-Union County Black Leadership Caucus. The proposed bills have prompted African-American community leaders to partner with other political and civil rights groups to make a public statement opposing the bill.

But on a personal level, he is dismayed at the move to end or shorten the voting programs proven to get more people to the polls.

“I’m outraged by what’s going on,” Walker said. “It’s going to impact everyone, not just Democrats or Republicans, but all hard-working people.”

Early voting programs allow more people to vote. Instead of continuing to encourage more people to participate in the democratic process,

“I feel our Democracy is being threatened,” Walker said. “I think a majority of people in this state would tell you that they want early voting and Sunday voting because it’s made it easier for them to vote. The will of the people should be what politics are about, not changes that make it harder for the people to participate in their government.”