Repeal the North Carolina Voter Suppression Act

Dear Virtual Editor:

I was delighted to learn recently that Dean Smith, the nation’s greatest basketball coach and one of the finest people I have known, will receive the US Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour, later this year. I think that is a wonderful and appropriate award, even if he has to accept it at the White House from that illegitimate Kenyan socialist President.

Dean Smith with Roy Williams and Miachel JordanI am concerned, however, because I know that Dean has been in the habit of voting in North Carolina for some years now and I am not completely sure that he will be able to do so next year. He is in his eighties now and, like tens of thousands of the black folks he stood with against segregation years ago, he may not have a driver’s license any more. Likewise, he doesn’t travel as much as he used to and his passport has probably expired. I am pretty sure he does not have a military or tribal ID card, so I do worry.

That is because those are the only four documents that will suffice under NC’s new Democratic Voter Suppression Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. 163-166.14. His university ID would not help.  UNC is a public school, but anything issued that identifies Dean, or thousands of maintenance workers, as public employees won’t do either. Most troubling of all for his prospects of being able to vote are reports from reliable sources that Smith has been known to vote for Democrats.

This crisis has prompted me to think about the link between my contacts with the legendary coach and the North Carolina General Assembly. My brief association with Dean Smith over the years came not primarily from being a fervent Tarheel basketball fan, which I shall ever be, but because of my membership on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He often graciously provided assistance and support to us and to other abolition efforts. I will remember his decency and refined sense of justice even more than the multitude of round ball wins by players who would graduate and whom he would continue to mentor long after he had anything to gain by it.

Unfortunately, abolition activities also took me from time to time to Raleigh.  When members of the General Assembly enter the halls to govern a state that for about forty years actually resembled a democracy, they pass a statue of the capital’s namesake, Sir Walter Raleigh.  We were never able to get a sufficient number of them to pay attention to the lesson of Raleigh, who was executed after a sham trial. Today, they seem to be similarly unconcerned about the sham that will be the next election in the state.

The officially titled “Restore Confidence in Government Act” aims to restore that confidence by dealing with a shocking voter fraud rate of 0.00174% in the 2012 election. (That’s 121 fraud referrals to the state elections board out of 6,947,317 votes cast.) The legislation was speedily enacted by the Republican controlled legislature moments after five, non-activist, conservative Supreme Court Justices, those traditional respecters of the popular will as expressed by Congress, freed North Carolina from the bondage of the Voting Rights Act. Several of the five were the same traditionalists who freed Florida in 2000 from the drudgery of having to count votes.

The contents of the act have been reported fairly widely, albeit through the lens of news organizations that would have insisted, in the interest of fairness, on interviewing politicians in support of literacy tests and poll taxes “to get their side of the story”.  News media are painfully slow at realizing that there are some stories, only a few, that do not have two sides. This is one.  The act is transparently designed to suppress participation by those who have traditionally voted for Democrats, specifically blacks, students, the poor. It is also designed to free up streams of money for Republican candidates.

Contrary to popular belief, proof by circumstantial evidence can be the most compelling kind. The rule of law, however, is that the circumstances must exclude every reasonable possibility of innocence, and point unerringly to guilt. I invite you to disregard for the moment the plain admission by some Republicans that the purpose of this type of legislation is exactly as I have described it.  Just consider the circumstances.

Here are the lowlights, in addition to the ID requirements:

  • Early voting period reduced by a week; no more same day registration for early voting. (70% of blacks voting in 2012 voted early)
  • Permits registered voters to challenge one another without cause and increases the number of poll watchers. (Vigilante groups like “True the Vote” have already been accused of intimidation. The allegations do not involve intimidating old white males.)
  • Prohibits counties from extending voting hours on election day to deal with long lines.
  • Eliminates the program that allowed students who would be 18 by election day to pre-register when 16 or 17.
  • Weakens disclosure requirements on who pays for ads and allows unlimited corporate donations to political parties. (Koch brothers, come on in!)

n_maddow_2_130822If these circumstances are not sufficiently convincing, let’s move from Raleigh to the one hundred counties in the state, all controlled now by Republican election boards.  Two recent examples of their approach to voting by blacks and students have received some attention from the biased left wing media. In the first, the Pasquotank County board went for a twofer. Acting on a challenge by a professional challenger, who was being advised in the hearing room by a representative of a national right wing group, the board disqualified Montravius King from running for the Elizabeth City Council, and from voting. The aptly named Mr. King is a black student at predominately black Elizabeth City State University. The board ruled that it was impossible for him to be a resident since he lived in a campus dorm.

King appealed, and the state elections board, controlled 3-2 by Republicans, voted 5-0 to reverse the local board and allow King to run. The board was either hit by a sudden attack of fairness, or was worried about the growing public backlash, or possibly gave some thought to what the law on this matter has been since 1979. In that year, in Symm v. U.S, 439 US 1105, the Supreme Court summarily approved a lower court decision barring a student voter suppression scheme in Waller County, Texas.  Surprise!  That small Texas county also had a predominantly black university, Prairie View A&M. Unlike Pasquotank, the Texas election official did not even overtly ban students. Instead, he allowed unobstructed voting by people he knew, and by those who owned property in the county.  Students, however, were required to fill out a lengthy questionnaire, with inquiries such as “Where do you live while in college?” or “What do you plan to do when you finish your college education?”  My personal favorite was “Do you belong to a church, club, or some Waller County organization? If so, please name them.”  The record does not reflect whether there was a Waller County NAACP, or whether that would have counted.

It would not require a legal scholar to figure out that the Pasquotank scheme was a bit more egregious than the one struck down in Waller County.  Still, whatever its motivation, full marks to the NC state elections board.

In Watauga County, home of the larger Appalachian State University, the local board’s scheme for suppressing student votes made it past the state board. The board closed an early voting site at the university, and consolidated the county into one big precinct, which students will have to reach either by traveling part way by foot on a highway with no sidewalk, or by securing one of the twenty or so parking places available for the more than nine thousand voters.


There is a crisis in North Carolina and if we are going to make sure that Dean Smith gets to vote, something has to be done. We need a ringing call to action only slightly different from that raised by the immortal Professor Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN: Friends, either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are unaware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of Republicans in your legislature!

Here are five suggestions:

1. Support the Moral Mondays campaign by a coalition of organizations engaging in lobbying and civil disobedience.

2. Keep the lawsuits coming! In addition to helping Dean, the courts might look kindly on the plight of Alberta Currie, 78, a black woman from Hope Mills, a hamlet next to my longtime home, Fayetteville.  Alberta was born at home with a midwife. Like many born in the Jim Crow south, she has no birth certificate. Her Virginia drivers license is expired. She would really like to vote because she has done so since 1956. She prevailed over poll taxes, literacy tests, and having to go to the back of the line when white voters showed up.  (Yes, Justice Scalia, she thinks she has an entitlement to vote.)  But it won’t happen again if justice does not prevail.

3. Continue trying to educate the press. They are slow, but they may come around. The  more light shone on this travesty, the better

4. Consider firmly, non-violently challenging Republican voters at the polls. Go up to that old white guy with the NRA baseball hat and the woman with the beehive hairdo and ask to see their papers.

5. Comply with the damn requirements and VOTE THE BUMS OUT!



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