House Bill 589

North Carolina is set to pass one of the most strict voting limitations bills in the country.  Not only does it include a strict voter-ID law and provision shortening early voting and eliminating same-day voter registration for early voting, but it’s also a laundry list of ways to make it harder for people to vote, and which cannot plausibly be justified on antifraud grounds. WRAL describes some of its other provisions:

  • Eliminate pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, who currently can register to vote before they turn 18.
  • Outlaw paid voter registration drives.
  • Eliminate straight-ticket voting.
  • Eliminate provisional voting if someone shows up at the wrong precinct.
  • Prohibit counties from extending poll hours by one hour on Election Day in extraordinary circumstances, such as in response to long lines.
  • Allow any registered voter of a county to challenge the eligibility of a voter rather than just a voter of the precinct in which the suspect voter is registered.
  • Move the presidential primary to first Tuesday after South Carolina's primary if that state holds its primary before March 15. That would mean North Carolina would have two primaries during presidential elections.
  • Study electronic filing for campaign returns.
  • Increase the maximum allowed campaign contribution per election from $4,000 to $5,000.
  • Loosen disclosure requirements in campaign ads paid for by independent committees.
  • Repeal the publicly funded election program for appellate court judges.
  • Repeal the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaigns.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, this measure no longer requires federal approval before it can go into effect. And while we can be sure that voting-rights advocates will challenge this law in court once it passes, they will do so under much tougher voting-rights standards.

But all is not bleak.  A strong law like this is likely to inspire heavy backlash.  Litigation to bar paid voter-registration drives will probably be struck down. Activists will spend considerable energy seeking to negate the effects of these laws and to increase turnout.

Don't think it will happen?  Talk to the Republican legislators in Florida. They passed their own cutbacks in voter registration and early voting before the 2012 elections. Voting-rights advocates eventually got the registration rules thrown out. After Election Day in Florida saw some people waiting hours to vote, and Florida was once again held up as the example of how not to run an election and a friendly Republican home for voter suppression, the Florida legislature repealed the cutback in early voting and other voting restrictions.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, seeing Florida’s experience, abandoned his effort to eliminate same-day voter registration in the state. The story of the 2012 election was a story of voter and judicial backlash against Republican overreaching on voting.

North Carolina is the next battleground, and it is in the national spotlight.

Of course, the cavalry might arrive before there is a voter backlash:

The Justice Department is preparing to take fresh legal action in a string of voting rights cases across the nation, U.S. officials said, part of a new attempt to blunt the impact of a Supreme Court ruling that the Obama administration has warned will imperil minority representation.

The decision to challenge state officials marks an aggressive effort to continue policing voting rights issues and follows a ruling by the court last month that invalidated a critical part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The justices threw out a part of the act that determined which states with a history of discrimination had to be granted Justice Department or court approval before making voting law changes.

Let's hope.

What do you think?