Twisting the System

North Carolina was once among states with the lowest voter turnout in the country. But with new early-voting and same-day registration laws, the state had the nation’s largest increase in voter participation from 2004 to 2008. Bob Hall is the executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a group that lobbied for the laws and is fighting to keep them on the books.

What’s been the impact of same-day registration and early voting in North Carolina?

More than 100,000 first-time voters used same-day registration in 2008, and another 150,000 used it to update their addresses or names. We’re actually the largest state, population-wise, to have same-day registration, and the most diverse. North Carolina is a state that is suffering from the legacy of Jim Crow segregation, slavery, and forced disenfranchisement—a culture that teaches people that “politics is not for you,” and that’s what we’re trying to overcome.

Early voting jumped to over a majority of votes in 2008, 2.4 million out of 4.2 million. We did a study that showed that the single largest group using early voting in 2008 was African American female Democrats. In 2010, it was white male Republicans.

What’s happened since Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010?

They’re trying to make voting an exclusive activity for people who are highly credentialed and have property, money, and status. They’re systematically trying to pass a series of bills that would end same-day registration and cut early voting back, and the biggest wedge they’ve tried to introduce is a government photo-ID requirement. At this point, we’ve been able to fight that back.

If these restrictive bills become law, will North Carolina’s progress be rolled back? It would, particularly for the occasional voter. Putting more barriers in front of that person is going to make them turn away. There are more than 450,000 active registered voters—8 percent of the active registered voters—who do not have a current driver’s license or a state-issued ID. The people without government IDs are disproportionately African Americans and elderly folks. African Americans, who make up 22 percent of active registered voters, are 32 percent of the voters who don’t have a government photo ID.

What’s the real reason for these GOP efforts?

Suppressing the vote of people they think don’t think like their party. The Democrats did it 110 years ago. We had a turnout rate among eligible voters—which meant men, white and black—in the 1880s and 1890s that was up to 75 percent to 80 percent. But after the end of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, the literacy test, and the poll tax, not to mention  the Red Shirts and the KKK, drove turnout down. And now Republicans are acting similar to those Democrats, twisting the system to their advantage, which is not what democracy should be about.