A 92-year-old African-American woman has sued North Carolina mere hours after Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a controversial voter reform bill. Rosanell Eaton says that her constitutional rights have been violated because the law requires an individual to have a government-issued ID.
North Carolina became one of 13 states to enact photo voter ID legislation since the 2010 election. In each case but one, a Republican governor signed the law into action, or a Republican-dominated legislature overturned a Democratic governor's veto. Some suggest that the law specifically targets minorities such as blacks and Hispanics, who are Democratically-inclined voters. In a system where the participation rate is already embarrassingly low, politicians shouldn't be making it harder for people to vote. But the system needs to also verify the identity of the voter. In order to present a solution to both needs, states with this legislation should have easily accessible programs that enable an individual like Eaton to acquire the necessary documents in an expedient and frugal manner.
The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP, states that Eaton will be "disenfranchised after voting for 70 years." While North Carolina does provide a free government-issued ID, Eaton's struggle extends beyond that. "Mrs. Eaton, who was born at home, has a current North Carolina driver's license, but the name on her certified birth certificate does not match the name on her driver's license or the name on her voter registration card," says the lawsuit. "Mrs. Eaton will incur substantial time and expense to correct her identification documents to match her voter registration record in order to meet the new requirements."
In conjunction with the voter ID requirements, the law reduces the number of early voting days from 17 to 10, irrespective of the fact that 61% of North Carolina's voters cast early ballots during the 2012 election. Almost 70% of black individuals voted early in 2012.
Cutting the early voting will have a significant, and negative impact on black voters says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens … Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election … voters [stood] in line for hours, some having to wait until after the president's acceptance speech to finally vote, and hundreds of thousands giving up in frustration. Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."
A second lawsuit, filed on Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition For Social Justice, said that the new law has a disproportionate effect on the black population.
It is absolutely imperative that the state work to ensure voter integrity — it is also important to do our best to ensure that everyone has the equal opportunity to vote. Requiring voter ID is a valid way to do so. But it must be considered that this requirement can present a burden to many minority groups and can create a disincentive to vote. For many people who might want to vote at the last minute, getting a license won't be possible. Therefore the state and voting activists groups should do as much as they can to promote what the new law requires so that individuals can acquire the documents they need.
In the case of Eaton, she has multiple issues with her identification that will take time, effort, and money to unravel. The issue is much more complicated than the average complaint that people have about voter ID laws. It is not an outrageous idea to ask someone to prove who they are before they vote. You present identification throughout your daily life; identification is an important part of modern times. But at the same time, the state can help to facilitate this new requirement by giving people an outlet to easily obtain the documents.