The N.C. Senate approved a controversial early voting bill 23-11 Friday afternoon, sending it to Gov. Roy Cooper.
The fast-moving bill was introduced close to midnight Wednesday as a last-minute replacement for a gutted, unrelated bill. It saw fierce and lengthy debate in the House Friday morning. But the Senate debate was fairly short, with Republicans offering little in the way of defense of the bill and just a few Democrats raising the alarm about it.
Several Black Senators did speak up as to how the new law would continue what they call a pattern of disenfranchising minorities through voting laws.
Removing the final Saturday before the election as an early voting day, as this bill does, looks like another swipe at Black voters, they said. That is traditionally the most popular day for Black voters to come to the polls.
Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) spoke passionately about the struggle of Black people to secure the vote in America.
“That, for a lot of people who look like me, was an American dream,” Robinson said. “And we worked and we got it.”
Unfortunately, Robinson said, the General Assembly has for the last few years seemed intent on assaulting that ultimate symbol of equality and freedom.
“This is just another attack on that freedom,” Robinson said. “This General Assembly should not be in the business of taking away the freedoms of the people of the United States.
Senator Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg) said she has received more e-mails about the early voting bill than any piece of bill during the last busy, legislation-heavy week.
county saw about 13,000 more people vote early in the last election than four years ago.
“We have more people voting so we need to provide more opportunities for people to vote,” Waddell said. “Mecklenburg is a growing county. People are coming and people are registering – and I don’t think we should be doing anything to disenfranchise voting.”
Waddell said she also got e-mails about the process of the bill – introduced late and with no warning late at night before a morning committee meeting, which led to few people being able to attend or weigh in on the bill. State and local election officials weren’t given any input or indication the bill was coming, Waddell said – and they are already making their early election plans.
“This bill could dramatically effect those election plans,” Waddell said.
“Not only that – I don’t think we should be doing anything to prohibit – or what seems to be prohibiting voting,” Waddell said. “It’s like you’re fighting in a match with your hands behind your back. And we have to make certain that we don’t take away what has been given.”
Having passed in both chambers of the General Assembly, the bill now goes to the governor.
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice called for him to veto it Friday afternoon – a likely outcome, as Cooper has made voting rights issues a central issue since he was Attorney General.
“We all know — and the legislature knows — that African-American voters make use of the last Saturday of early voting more than other groups,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the coalition. “We’ve endured this outrageous song and dance before. Efforts to dilute or undermine the voting strength of African Americans are illegal and undemocratic. We strongly urge Gov. Cooper to veto this bill.”
Riggs also emphasized a point made in the House debate – that different counties have different needs and will not be served well by mandating a 12 hour day for every early voting site, regardless of its location or its traffic.
“Local election boards and advocates working with their local boards often know best how to make sure their community members have opportunities to vote,” Riggs said. ” For rural counties in particular, mandating the expensive task of running every county site throughout early voting will lead to fewer early voting locations,”
“Despite the efforts to muddy the water with specious claims about the need for uniformity, it’s clear that this bill achieves one thing and one thing only: making it harder to for North Carolinians to vote,” Riggs said. “Gov. Cooper should demand that voting remains easily accessible for all voters and veto this bill.”