North Carolina pushes the envelope:
Once a temperate and tolerant beacon of the South, the state is poised to enact a rash of inexpressibly awful legislation, rushed through a Republican legislature. Because the GOP has veto-proof super-majorities in the state House and Senate, and a Republican governor for the first time since Reconstruction, the party has been on a spree. Republican-controlled redistricting was fantastically effective. So much so that in the 2012 elections, nearly 51 percent of North Carolina voters picked a Democrat for the U.S. House, yet Republicans won nine of the state’s 13 House seats, as Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis recently pointed out.
Some of the gems advanced recently in the legislature include an abortion bill tacked first onto an anti-Sharia law and then snuck in through a motorcycle safety law (new TRAP regulations may shutter all but one clinic in the state). Another bill forces all educators to teach seventh graders that abortion causes preterm birth (it doesn’t). Lawmakers also enacted legislation (described here and elsewhere as “the harshest unemployment insurance program cuts in our nation’s history”) that resulted in 70,000 North Carolina citizens losing their unemployment benefits. The state is one of the 15 to have refused Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. A proposed education bill would slash teacher compensation, (already ranked among the lowest in the nation), eliminate tenure, and use vouchers to reallocate $90 million of public-school funding to private schools (The school superintendent issued a statement this week saying that in light of the proposed deep cuts to the education budget “For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.”) Don’t forget the embarrassing proposed resolution allowing counties and cities to enshrine a state religion. Or the proposed ban on nipples.
How does the state legislature control an electorate that by all accounts really hates the state’s new legislative initiatives? Simple. Drown them out—by diluting minority/Democratic votes through redistricting, or suppressing the vote.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 40 counties in North Carolina had to go to the federal government for pre-approval of any change to local election law. When the Supreme Court locked up Section 5 last month, by a vote of 5–4, it gave a great gift to the disenfranchisement community. States no longer need to check their crazy with federal courts or the Justice Department. The obligation to prove that you aren’t harming minority voters (or expressly targeting them) has gone. Texas and Mississippi charged ahead with their own controversial voter ID laws within hours of the Supreme Court ruling. Alabama and Mississippi have either passed or are working on similar ones. And Tuesday, North Carolina took the first step to expanding its Voter ID bill to better disenfranchise a few more voters who might have leaned left, including students, African-Americans, and women.
Indeed, North Carolina has just put in place a vote suppression regime that can only really be described as political performance art. Here is the proposed new elections omnibus bill. It drastically reduces early voting, does away with same-day voter registration, weakens the disclosure of so-called independent expenditures, disenfranchises felons and the “mentally incompetent,” authorizes vigilante poll observers, and penalizes families of college students who vote out of state.
As George Lovell said in our recent podcast, William Rehnquist during his confirmation hearings at least felt compelled to lie about his past days as a vote suppression goon. Today, he’d wear it proudly.