Who’s Affected by North Carolina’s Voter Suppression Law?
In August 2013, North Carolina enacted the worst voter suppression law in the country. Among other provisions, this “monster” law (H.B. 589) shortens the early voting period by a full week, eliminates same-day registration, requires strict forms of voter ID, prevents out-of-precinct ballots from being counted, expands the ability to challenge voters at the polls, and ends a successful pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year olds. Each of these provisions has a disproportionate impact on North Carolina’s African-American and Latino voters. Here are stories of some of the plaintiffs and witnesses in our lawsuit, brought on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP, challenging H.B. 589. These individuals know all too well this law’s harmful impact on North Carolina’s voters of color.
Rosanell Eaton (pictured on right), 93, has voted in North Carolina since the 1940s – back when she was forced to take a literacy test by reciting the Preamble to the Constitution without any errors before she could register to vote. Despite having voted for over 70 years and dedicating much of her adult life to helping others do the same, under North Carolina’s new law Eaton may be denied her right to vote. While Eaton has a certified birth certificate, a current North Carolina driver’s license, and a voter registration card – the names on all three documents are spelled differently or use different last names. Because the names on her various identifying documents don’t match her voter registration, Eaton’s right to vote will be abridged under H.B. 589 if she does not incur the time and expense to correct the names on these documents.
Maria Teresa Unger Palmer, age 53, is a Council Member representing the town of Chapel Hill and the first Latina elected official in North Carolina. The name on Palmer’s driver’s license does not match the name on her Social Security card, or her voter registration card, because of different combinations of her given and married names. If Palmer is unable to obtain identification that is sufficient to vote under the new voter identification requirements of H.B. 589, she will be disenfranchised come the 2016 election cycle. Palmer, who plans to plans to run for re-election, must further make amplified efforts to educate the Latino members of her constituency on H.B. 589’s new regulations, and to ensure that they meet the new requirements to vote.
Carolyn Coleman (pictured on left), age 71, has been engaged with voter participation efforts for the last half century, working for the NAACP in various roles across multiple southern states. Coleman now serves a predominately African-American constituent base as an elected commission in Guilford County. During the preliminary injunction hearing for H.B. 589, Coleman testified to the court that she was “devastated” when she first learned about the changes to North Carolina voting laws enacted through the bill. “I felt like I was living my life all over again,” she said. “Everything that I worked for [over] the last 50 years was now almost being lost.” Coleman expressed concern for her constituents that lack the means or transportation to make multiple trips to register and vote, and the many more who will be discouraged or intimidated from the ballot box due to restrictive new regulations.
Jocelyn Andreka Ferguson-Kelly and Faith Jackson are both students at Winston-Salem State University, a historically Black college in North Carolina. Ferguson-Kelly is studying clinical laboratory science and Jackson is pursuing a degree in nursing. They both registered to vote in North Carolina and voted in 2012 at the polling place on campus; however, neither has the forms of accepted identification now required to vote under H.B. 589. Both Ferguson-Kelly and Jackson plan to vote in future elections and will have to incur substantial time and expense to obtain the required identification needed to regain their right to vote. They are also concerned that the provisions of H.B. 589, such as the elimination of same-day registration and cuts to early voting, will have a particularly chilling impact on students and youth voters like them.
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins (pictured on left) serves as the senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Durham. For the past 18 years, Rev. Hawkins has led a predominantly African-American congregation of approximately 220 members. In this time, the congregation has participated in extensive voter engagement projects, including voter registration and "Souls to the Polls” efforts where the church provides transportation to early voting locations after Sunday services. With the elimination of a full week of early voting under H.B. 589, the timespan for “Souls to the Polls” has been cut in half, leaving Rev. Hawkins and his congregation with less time to provide voters needed transportation. With only one 15-passanger van, the congregation will either be burdened to pay for additional vehicle services or will be unable to reach all the voters who rely on them for transport in order to cast their ballots. But even more damaging, the Pastor described, is the message of non-inclusion sent by the law. For African American voters, Hawkins testified in court, voting is “not just a political activity; it’s personal,” he said, recounting having to sit up in the balcony in his town’s segregated movie theater well into the 1970’s, and the emotion of coming back home in college just to watch a movie down on the main floor. African Americans feel like they are being relegated back to the balcony by this law, and it evokes a visceral response.
Rep. Henry “Mickey” Michaux, Jr. represents NC House District 21, and was the first African-American to serve as Assistant District Attorney in the state, as well as the first African American in the South to serve as a United State Attorney. In a declaration for the court, Rep. Michaux expressed concerns for the many ways that H.B. 589 may inhibit in-person voting opportunities for his constituents and African-American voters across the state through truncated early voting and longer lines on Election Day. “In-person voting is the ultimate demonstration of [the] hard-won fight of Black citizens to obtain the right to vote after a history of denial in the State of North Carolina.” Michaux fears that H.B. 589 “turns back the clock and re-enacts barriers to voting, especially for African Americans.”
Mary Perry, 84, is a longtime voter, but has encountered long lines and difficulty in parking at her voting site in Raleigh during early voting. This has resulted in her having to park long distances from the voting site and then stand for extensive periods of time in lengthy lines. Perry prefers to vote in person because of its historical significance to African Americans and to ensure that her ballot is counted. Due to her advancing age, however, she is unable to stand for long periods of time or walk far distances. With the inevitable increase in congestion at voting locations due to the reduction in early voting days under H.B. 589, longer lines and loaded parking lots may inhibit Perry’s ability to cast her ballot in person.