by Edward A. Hailes, Jr., Managing Director and General Counsel, Advancement Project. This post is a part of our 2013 ACS Constitution Day symposium.
As the nation observes Constitution Day, most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that there is no provision of the Constitution or federal law that explicitly and affirmatively guarantees all citizens the right to vote. While the Constitution mentions the right to vote more than any other – forbidding it from being abridged based on race, gender, age or ability to pay a poll tax – it contains no affirmative language making that right explicit. In fact, the U.S. is one of only 11 of the 119 democratic countries in the world that do not explicitly provide the right to vote in their Constitutions. What’s more, the US Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder, which acknowledged the existence of persistent discrimination in voting, opened the door for new barriers to voting to emerge in states across the country.
Nowhere is this more evident than in North Carolina, where Governor Pat McCrory recently signed into law legislation (HB 589) that enacts dozens of changes that will make it harder to vote. Among other provisions, the recently signed measure implements a strict voter ID requirement; cuts early voting by a full week; eliminates same-day registration; allows voters to be challenged by any registered voter in the same county, rather than precinct; bans 16 and 17-year-olds from pre-registering to vote; repeals a state directive that high schools conduct voter registration drives; prohibits paid voter registration drives; and prevents counties from extending poll hours to accommodate long lines.
Each of these changes, on their own, would already be considerably harmful to the voting rights of North Carolinians. Taken together, it is the worst voter suppression law in the country. It viciously targets nearly every aspect of the voting process – chipping away at who can vote, where they vote, when they can vote, and how they vote. With the stroke of a pen, Gov. McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation’s most progressive voting systems, in which we saw some of the highest voter turnout rates of the last two presidential elections, into a state with the most draconian policies we’ve seen in decades. The law will disproportionately impact communities of color, seniors and students.