History Repeats Itself in North Carolina

By Dave Palmer

History is known to repeat itself. Though sometimes the circumstances are different, our most familiar fights have a way of resurfacing. According to ThinkProgress.org, Rosanell Eaton is facing a historical battle that she probably thought that she would never have to fight again.

At the age of 21, Ms. Eaton experienced literacy tests in the segregated North Carolina. The test involved reciting the preamble to the Constitution, which she managed to do and was awarded with enfranchisement. (By the way, isn’t just ballsy to use the Constitution in an attempt to deny someone their right to vote as guaranteed by the Constitution?)

Thanks largely to the Supreme Court striking down Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,  North Carolina among several other states is clamoring to be first across the line in the race toward voter restriction. Unfortunately, Ms. Eaton is again forced to step into the ring to fight against voter suppression .

According to the article, “… she may not qualify for the voter ID card required under the new law, because the name on her birth certificate is different from the name on her driver’s license and voter registration card. Reconciling this difference will be a costly and time-consuming administrative endeavor.” (Why a driver’s license is not considered to be an acceptable form of identification to vote is mysterious.)

Considering that she was born in 1921, most likely delivered by a midwife outside a hospital, tracking down her original birth certificate will be a mean feat indeed. Then, it’s a matter of figuring out which identification needs to be changed, which no doubt requires a fee of some kind and could even mean that she would have to visit her local Department of Motor Vehicles to make the change.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Eaton is joining several other individuals and civil rights groups in suing the State of North Carolina over their new restrictive law, which also contains provisions that eliminate same-day registration, early registration for high schoolers in advance of their 18th birthday, and prohibits certain kinds of voter registration drives that tend to register low-income and minority voters.

Also not surprisingly, the legislature and the governor’s office are both controlled by Republicans who seem hell bent on preventing anyone who doesn’t vote Republican from voting at all.

Since the Department of Justice can no longer require preclearance for changes to voting laws, it will be incumbent for voters to incur some nature of harm under these laws, sue as a result of this harm, and be able to prove in civil court that they were in fact harmed by the laws. Since it is mostly poor people and minorities who will be affected by these laws, one can only hope that civil liberties organizations will be able to pick up the slack.

The other possibility is to count on Congress to act and reinstate the struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since the prospect of Congress acting to do anything is as mythical as unicorns, it seems that lawsuits under other provisions of the Act may be the way to go.

When the Supreme Court issued its decision regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the majority opinion stated:  “Blatantly discriminatory evasions [of minority voting rights] are rare.” Well, SCOTUS, here is a prime example of blatantly discriminatory evasions of not only minority rights, but the rights of all people to vote. While the focus of North Carolina’s law seems on the surface to be not discriminatory toward just minorities, it is discriminatory towards students and poor people.

Any time you are required to spend ANY amount of money in order to vote (case in point, being forced to pay for a voter identification that apparently is completely separate from your driver’s license), that amounts to a poll tax, which is unconstitutional according to the 24th Amendment. You don’t even need the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prevent fees for voting.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court is equally likely to use copies of the Constitution for toilet paper as it is to use them to uphold the ideals of a democratic government, the fight must press on. North Carolina’s law must be challenged as an attempt to impose a poll tax and seen by judges along the way for what it is; a discriminatory law that is designed to prevent the poor, the elderly, students, and anyone else who might even be remotely likely to vote for a Democrat.

In the event that this case winds its way up to the Supreme Court, the lawyers would be wise to approach their arguments from the stance that North Carolina’s law is discriminatory towards the minority of people who are poor, the minority of people who are elderly, and the minority of people who are students. A minority of people needs to be defined as a small group within the population rather than defined by skin color.

If we are able to prove to the Supreme Court that the poor, the students and the elderly are minorities that run cross-culturally, and that North Carolina’s law is reminiscent of tricks imposed by Hitler and Stalin to eliminate their political competitors and ensure their continued power, we might just get somewhere.