A month after the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which allowed nine states to change their election laws without federal approval in advance. The Supreme Court accepted the argument that from 1965 to 2013, the US achieved integration. Many of the “freed” states rushed into preparing and passing voter identification laws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to remove voting barriers for racial minorities in North Carolina and other Southern states. It was no surprise that a month after the Supreme Court’s decision, North Carolina legislature passed the toughest voter identification law in the country, H.B. 589, after only three days of debate. H.B. 589 makes it more difficult for those who are young, older, poor and, especially, African American to participate in the election process – who were previously protected under the Voting Rights Act.
NC H.B. 589 adds the following obstacles to the voting process:
- It reduces the number of early voting days, by a week
- Imposes a requirement, to go in effect in 2016, that voters show photo ID cards at the polls, excluding student IDs, public employee IDs, etc.
- Eliminates the ability to register to vote and then cast a ballot on the same day
- Invalidates any ballot cast by an individual outside his or her precinct
- Encourages strangers to challenge the ability of people standing in line to vote
- Scraps a program to pre-register teenagers ahead of their 18th birthday
- Expands the influence of unregulated corporate influence in state elections
Governor Pat McCrory and other proponents of the voter-ID law say that these restrictions prevent voter fraud and corruption –- protect the integrity of the vote. This is a valid concern when a government faces problems of corruption and voter fraud. Imposing voting restrictions like the voter-ID law can prevent many problems that can lead to corruption or fraud – but in an ideal world, where obtaining legal IDs are equally accessible to everyone. The North Carolina NAACP and its plaintiffs in the case are opposing H.B 589, claiming that the law discriminates against black North Carolina voters.
Many minority voters work on hourly wages. People working hourly shifts may prefer to register, get an ID, or vote on weekends and off-days. Reducing the number of early voting days by a week leaves only two Sundays for these individuals to be able to register, considering they are not allowed to register to vote and then cast a ballot on the same day. Additionally, rural communities may struggle to access transportation to government offices to obtain their valid IDs and voter registration. These changes could place an undue burden on individuals who don’t have access to transportation and have the ability to take days out of work, since they get paid on hourly rate. Finally, many individuals from rural areas either don’t have valid birth certificates or they have mistakes on them, due to home births or illiteracy of older generations.
“Well I don’t know what we are going to do. I don’t know what this judge is doing taking so long, long ruling, writing his decision. But I have a feeling ultimately, it may take years, but I think ultimately we’ll win, I do.”
Gov. McCrory and the supporters of the law claim to be prevent corruption, others argue that such a law is unfair in the current system where there is an unequal distribution opportunities available to different income groups and minority groups. The above described restrictions are going to make it more difficult for some minority, rural, and low-income North Carolinians to get IDs very difficult – which will discourage many from voting.
After the law passed, several organizations, such as the Department of Justice, the NC NAACP, the ACLU, the League of Women Voters and a group of college students filed lawsuits against the state of North Carolina, which were joined together under the name of North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory. Today, the group represented by NC NAACP believe that this law is going to impact racial minorities and the poor, and therefore these communities will lack representation that will have their best interests.
Both Armenta Eaton and her mother Rosanell Eaton are plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Being one of the first Southern African Americans to register to vote in 1939, Rosanell experienced difficulties registering to vote after the implementation of H.B. 589. After almost seven decades of cherishing her vote and helping many others to vote, Rosanell kept fighting for voting rights. According to Armenta, Rosanell had to drive almost 200 miles to fix the discrepancies on her IDs and then she was able to register to vote.
“I just couldn’t sit idly of the back and just not put my two cents worth in, to do whatever I could in order to protest these laws…Protest is not uncommon to me, actually not protesting will be uncommon to me, because I did it when I worked for the Commission for Racial Justice, I did the Environmental Justice Movement down in Warren County.”
Both women are concerned with the voting injustice H.B. 589 will create. When Armenta Eaton learned that NC NAACP was looking for plaintiffs, she immediately called the president of NC NAACP, Reverend William Barber and volunteered – and raised her concerns in her declaration as a plaintiff. Later on, Reverend Barber called Rosanell Eaton personally and asked whether she would consider becoming a plaintiff. Rosanell volunteered. Rosanell and her plaintiff declaration represents the long history of voting rights, so her voice and presence reminds many of the long history of voting rights in North Carolina.