Yesterday’s actions by the State Board of Elections to expand voting opportunities in some, but not all, North Carolina counties in this fall’s election (see Joe Killian’s thorough story below) were, on the whole, better than had been feared. To its credit, the Board did not simply adopt the outrageous voter suppression recommendations of Republican Party boss Dallas Woodhouse (pictured at left) hook, line and sinker.
That said, it’s important not to get too carried away in praise of where things stand when it comes to voting rights in North Carolina. First of all, there can be no doubt that years of partisan efforts by the Right to suppress votes — particularly the votes of African-Americans — have taken their toll. Yes, the federal courts have pushed back against those efforts and many counties will have more reasonable early voting plans as things stand now, but for millions of average North Carolinians, the whole situation remains a confusing mess.
For years now, they’ve heard endless conflicting and confusing stories about things like voter ID and other voter suppression tactics that will have undoubtedly left them unsure where things stand and, in many cases, just plain disgusted and discouraged. This is, of course, just how people like Woodhouse and his ilk want them to feel.
From the beginning, it’s been their unabashed goal to discourage the poor, the marginalized, the disabled and people of color (i.e. those perceived as more likely to vote for Democrats) from voting. If they couldn’t accomplish it explicitly, they were happy to settle for the next best thing: chaos (or, at least, the widespread perception of it). And so, here we are, just a few weeks out from the 2016 general election with enormous confusion and 100 widely varying voting plans in North Carolina.
All of which points out the absurdity of how North Carolina deals with the issue of voting and elections in general. Sure, things could be worse here, but there are numerous simple steps we could take to make voting vastly easier — things like automatic registration, easier-to-use mail in ballots, a return to the option of straight party voting, voter “portability” which allows voters to move from county to county without constantly updating their address, pre-registration for teens and even online voting. Uniform statewide standards would be helpful as well.
The bottom line: North Carolina needs to move into the 21st Century when it comes to voting and elections. Yesterday’s actions by the state Board of Elections did some good, but ultimately, they were mostly about resisting an effort to take us back to the 19th. We’re still several decades behind the times.