Indeed, one can at least imagine a conversation in which, upon being presented with the latest demand to draft yet another voter suppression bill, a still marginally idealistic young aide might muster the gumption to speak up.
“But Senator,” the aide might offer, “I know what President Trump’s been saying, but we really haven’t been able to find any credible evidence at all of voter fraud in North Carolina. I mean, we won almost everything in the state in 2020 and we’ve already redrawn the maps for 2022 to guarantee even bigger margins in Congress and the legislature. Don’t you think people will say we’re pushing things just a little too far?”
At which point, the leader would likely look down for a moment to gather his thoughts and then, flashing a quick and patient grin, look up and say: “I hear you. And I used to have such feelings, but then it finally dawned on me that there are only two kinds of politicians in this world: those who are accumulating power and those who are losing it. Our supporters don’t give two hoots about how we get this done; they just want to win and so do I.”
And so it is, that the real-life North Carolina GOP is, fresh off passing into law some of the most egregiously gerrymandered redistricting maps in state history, advancing a trio of bills that would make it harder for people to vote – especially vulnerable populations who tend to support Democrats, like low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities, and people of color.
Senate Bill 326 would, for no good reason, discard mailed ballots that are lawfully cast but don’t arrive by Election Day. In years past, the state has collected tens of thousands of valid ballots that were mailed prior to Election Day, but that arrived up to a few days afterwards. Especially in this era when the U.S. Postal Service continues to struggle mightily, such a reversal makes absolutely no sense. Nonetheless, the bill received final approval last Thursday in a partisan vote and is headed to the Governor.
Senate Bill 725 would prohibit local election officials from receiving grants to help elections run smoothly. According to election watchdogs at Democracy North Carolina, in 2020, 97 of the state’s 100 county boards of elections received grant funding, totaling $4.1 million.
Those funds were used to purchase 6 million single-use pens to use at voting sites, pay bonuses to poll workers, and send a mailing to registered voters about their voting options. What possible purpose – other than stifling voter participation – could underlie such a ban? The bill needs only final Senate concurrence in House amendments to head to the governor.
And House Bill 259 is the latest version of a controversial measure previously vetoed by Gov. Cooper that seeks to target immigrants for disenfranchisement and harassment by purging voter rolls of people who’ve been excused from jury service in the past. As advocates at the ACLU of North Carolina have noted, the bill could result in “legitimate, naturalized voters being flagged for removal as non-citizens.”
Additionally, the names, addresses, birth dates, and other personal information of people included in data received by the Board of Elections would become public records, accessible to anyone – including those who would target people for harassment. The bill now resides in the Senate.
And, of course, underlying all these bills is – as with so much of the GOP agenda in 2021 – a thinly veiled overture to white fear and paranoia. The proposals may all be formally cast in race-neutral terms, but as several powerful speakers from civil rights and good government groups rightfully observed last week at a press event held outside the Legislative Building, all three are unmistakably part of a concerted national strategy to mobilize conservative white voters and keep people of color home.
As attorney Dawn Blagrove (pictured at left) of the criminal justice group Emancipate NC – a Black woman whose own grandmother was denied the right to vote in Mississippi less than a lifetime ago because of her skin color – eloquently explained at last week’s press event, it’s not hard for people of color who’ve experienced so much repression to identify “voter suppression, plain and simple.”
That said, as with the cynical drumbeat of proposals surrounding the manufactured and preposterous controversy over Critical Race Theory, it ultimately matters relatively little to the authors of these proposals that they become law. Indeed, sustainable gubernatorial vetoes for all three seem likely.
What’s really important is that they feed the overarching Trumpian narrative about the supposedly dire threat to “election integrity” posed by the thousands (or is it millions?) of nefarious Black and brown people out there who just can’t wait to risk prison by committing mass voter fraud.
And once you’re committed to a political agenda based on such a gigantic lie, sheepishness is not an emotion that’s likely to enter into the equation.