HB 589 suppresses the youth vote by: making student IDs and out-of-state driver’s licenses invalid for the purpose of voting; cutting early voting; ending same-day voter registration; ending provisional voting in incorrect precincts; and ending pre-registration for teens. The bill has emboldened county boards of elections to take voter suppression a step further by trying to disenfranchise young voters or even entire universities.
Governor McCrory is sending the wrong message to current and future voters. However, Republican contempt for youth candidates and youth voters is nothing new in the Old North State.
In 2007, a coalition of Young Democrats and voting rights activists were lobbying the General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow voters to register and vote on the same day. Republican State Auditor Les Merritt held up the same-day registration bill by citing a flawed preliminary report from his office’s quixotic multi-year investigation of North Carolina voters. He was also worried about 17-year-olds voting, but he didn’t understand that it was legal for 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections as long as they turned 18 by Election Day.
Merritt was roundly criticized by both legislators and the executive director of the State Board of Elections, and same-day registration passed. Over 250,000 North Carolinians legally voted and registered on the same day in 2008; HB 589 eliminates same-day registration.
In 2012, a Republican county commission candidate unsuccessfully tried to invalidate every vote from Warren Wilson College due to a technical error. The error resulted from General Assembly Republicans splitting the college during redistricting. The district lines were drawn to elect two Republicans and one Democrat to the State House from liberal Buncombe County, so students faced the dilution of their voting strength long before their votes were challenged.
This Spring, Lt. Governor Dan Forest railed against provisional ballots, equating them with fraud. Forest also supports the repeal of same-day registration. Forest is wrong – there’s no malice in someone trying to participate in our democracy. Both measures Forest opposes help citizens vote and involve more scrutiny than standard registration and voting. 23,364 North Carolina voters were able to cast a legal, official vote last November thanks to provisional ballots; HB 589 eliminates provisional voting if the voter is at the incorrect precinct.
Governor McCrory signed HB 589 into law, but he couldn’t answer basic questions about the bill at his own press conference or during radio interviews. His office has promoted the bill as a Voter ID bill, even though less than 10% of the bill concerns Voter ID. He cites polling data on Voter ID in support of the bill, but a poll commissioned by the Young Democrats of North Carolina demonstrated that our electorate would rather budget for more early voting than voter ID.
Governor McCrory’s appointments have put every county board of elections in North Carolina under Republican control. One of these county boards illegally removed a candidate for city council in Elizabeth City from the ballot simply for being a student at a historically black university. In Boone, efforts to eliminate student access to early voting and pack thousands of students into the same precinct are underway, guaranteeing that Appalachian State students will have to wait in longer lines to vote than anyone in the state. Student voter suppression is already being floated in Winston-Salem; both Winston-Salem and Boone have young elected officials on the ballot this fall.
Before Governor McCrory signed HB 589 bill into law, The Young Democrats of North Carolina requested a meeting with him on behalf of the over 700,000 registered Democrats under the age of 36. We thought a bipartisan meeting was very important since the Governor was confused about some parts of HB 589 at his legislative press conference. Unfortunately, we were told the Governor did not have time to meet with young civic leaders about a bill that affects us.
While Governor McCrory and General Assembly Republicans fear youth voters enough to disenfranchise us, they don’t respect us enough to let us vote, let us run for office, meet with us, or even take the time to read and understand the bill that makes it harder for us to vote. Coupled with unpopular stances on gay rights and immigration, Republican contempt for Millennial voters is a growing problem for the GOP. We will soon be a plurality of the electorate, and we will remember that Republicans didn’t want us to vote.
Taylor is the Treasurer of the Young Democrats of North Carolina and a 2013 Graduate of the Charlotte School of Law. This editorial was submitted to newspapers across North Carolina.
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