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Voting Rights

Voting is the cornerstone of democracy. And yet, throughout our history we have excluded indispensable voices from this fundamental right. African-Americans, women and young people all risked their lives for and eventually gained the right to vote. Voter turnout in the 2008 election was the most racially diverse in American history, closing the longstanding gap between white and minority voter participation. In response to this historic moment, however, lawmakers nationwide have erected more barriers to the ballot box. 

GREENSBORO, N.C. –The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice today filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter suppression law signed hours ago by Gov. Pat McCrory. The suit specifically targets provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit “out-of-precinct” voting. It seeks to stop North Carolina from enacting these provisions, arguing that they would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several North Carolinians who will face substantial hardship under the law, and on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, whose efforts to promote voter participation in future elections will be severely hampered if the measure takes effect.

 “This law is a disaster. Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens. It will turn Election Day into a mess, shoving more voters into even longer lines,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election, and we all know how that turned out – voters standing 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.”


RALEIGH – Last night, the North Carolina Senate tentatively passed H.B. 589, an omnibus voting restriction bill that could be the most suppressive elections law in the nation. The Senate still needs to give final approval to the bill before it goes to the House for consideration.

In response, Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“H.B. 589 attacks democracy at its core as it is clearly designed to make it more difficult for thousands of eligible voters to register and cast a ballot. Many of these restrictions, such as eliminating pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and disallowing use of college IDs at the polls, will severely discourage young people from participating in elections.  Others, such as shortening early voting and making it more difficult to set up satellite polling stations, will be extremely burdensome for elderly and disabled voters who rely on such methods to cast their votes. In a session marked by attacks on North Carolinians’ most basic liberties, H.B. 589 is one of the most shameful and severe. We urge the House to protect ballot access for all by rejecting this bill.”


By Chris Brook, ACLU-NC Legal Director

The right of every eligible citizen to cast a ballot and participate in the democratic process is one of the most deeply held American values. But, as any observer of history knows, that right has not always been extended equally in North Carolina or across the nation, particularly to African-Americans and other voters of color. In 1965, efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, particularly in the South, led the United States Congress to pass the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA), which has, for generations, been used to ensure that elections are free, fair, and accessible to all eligible voters.

The 2006 re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act was an all too rare moment in our politics. Instead of seeking momentary political advantage, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle worked together to ensure that the promise of our democracy was extended to the next generation of voters. The House of Representatives approved re-authorization by a stunning 390-33 margin, with unanimous 98-0 approval in the Senate days later. President George W. Bush brought together Republicans and Democrats as he signed a 25-year extension of a law exemplifying "our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect."


RALEIGH – Today, in a 5-4 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced until Congress revisits the formula used to determine which states and localities require federal approval to change voting laws.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement:

“The Voting Rights Act is one of the most important civil rights laws in American history and has played a vital role in protecting the voting rights of North Carolinians from its passage in 1965 to the present. With attempts to suppress voting becoming more common and more sophisticated across the country, and North Carolina’s legislature poised to approve legislation that will make it harder for thousands of eligible state voters to cast a ballot by requiring forms of ID that many North Carolinians lack and cannot easily obtain, the need for such protections is more urgent than ever. Unless Congress acts promptly to make sure that the federal government has the tools it needs to protect voting rights, today’s decision could leave many North Carolinians vulnerable to attempts to exclude them from the democratic process. We urge Congress to act without delay.”


At a press conference at the North Carolina General Assembly this morning, the ACLU of North Carolina and other organizations committed to protecting voting rights unveiled a new website -- ProtectOurVoteNC.com -- and public service announcement aimed at educating the public about how a law requiring voters to show photo ID would make it harder for thousands of eligible voters to participatre in our democracy.

The process of obtaining a state-issued photo ID requires time and money that many North Carolinians — especially low-income, disabled, and elderly voters — don’t have. It may sound simple, but in reality, it’s costly and complicated. According to the North Carolina Board of Elections, more than 600,000 eligible voters may not possess a state-issued photo ID.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a so-called "voter ID" law in 2011, but the legislation was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue.