Last Monday’s arrests of 73 people brought the total to 925 since the group started on the last Monday of April. Each Monday, thousands collect at the state capital to demonstrate against cuts in social programs, education, and employment, against the state’s anti-abortion and anti-Medicaid laws, against labor rights and the resuming of the death penalty–against all the draconian action that this year’s legislature has taken. Last week’s group, many of them organizing in churches, came to fight the restrictive voter laws that will go into effect in the state.
In an effort at intimidation, a right-wing group has set up a website with the high-sounding name of Civitas Institute that includes the names, mug shots, addresses, phone numbers, occupations, and salaries of all those arrested. All it seems to prove is that almost all the people are North Carolina residents, instead of out-of-state carpet baggers, as GOP lawmakers claim.
The lawmakers must be getting worried about the demonstrators: this past week they moved their meeting time three hours earlier from the usual 7:00 pm schedule. Yet the protesters who sang and chanted in an almost empty building were still arrested.
The Assembly’s action has led to its approval rating below 20 percent, just a bit higher than for the U.S. Congress. Gov. Pat McCrory saw his approval rating fall 15 percent in just one month, and it may go farther down after he signed the anti-abortion bill that only 34 percent of the voters want. He had promised during his campaign not to sign any anti-abortion bill.
Arrests of residents who disagree with the legislative action are also becoming more aggressive with many being handcuffed for “petty citations” and sent to jail, according to House Democratic Leader Larry Hall. The lawyer from Durham said, “I believe we have a great police force here. Now, who do they work for? They work for whoever is in the majority in the House and the Senate, who are responsible for the messages sent to them from the top.”
He may have a point about the conservatives telling the police what to do. In July 2001, when the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats, conservative activists held a mass gathering to protest a proposed tax increase. No one was arrested.
Moral Monday participants refuse to be discouraged. Their numbers are growing, and they seem to be gaining confidence and courage because of the attention that they have drawn.
Past legislative actions have included killing the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on 900,000 poor people, cutting corporate and personal income taxes for the top 5 percent, eliminating unemployment for 70,000 people, denying Medicaid expansion that will cost taxpayers more, inviting corporations to frack in the state, defunding schools before distributing them to private companies—many of these through the 20 bills written by the ultra-conservative, corporate-owned ALEC.
The state’s most recent anti-abortion law mandates that all seventh-graders be taught the falsehood that abortions cause preterm births. It also requires a doctor to be present when the first drug in a chemical abortion is administered. Abortion clinics are required to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers whenever the state Department of Health and Human Services wishes. In order to slip through the new anti-abortion law, the state Senate put it under an anti-Sharia law, and the Assembly attached it to a motorcycle safety bill. A drawing shows the similarity between the uterus and the motorcycle.
The voter suppression law passed this week is the worst in the nation, disenfranchising 318,000 registered voters who don’t have the narrow forms of state-issued ID, almost two-thirds of them women. One woman said that getting the appropriate identification would cost her $120, which amounts to the poll tax that has been ruled unconstitutional.
The new voting law contains all the ways other states have legislated to keep minorities and the poor from voting: cutting a week of early voting, ending same-day registration during that period, preventing counties from offering voting on the last Saturday beyond 1:00 pm or extending poll hours by an hour on Election Day because of long lines, purging voter rolls, and allowing vastly more vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters and give erroneous information as they have in the past.
Other methods of suppression, however, are unique to North Carolina. Citizens may not file provisional ballots if they go to the wrong precinct, confusing because many precincts in urban areas can be housed in the same building. It eliminates state-supported registration drives and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds as well as Citizens Awareness Month to encourage voter registration. Parents of students who register where they attend college will lose the $2,500 child dependency tax deduction for their children, again creating a poll tax.
Ex-felons cannot vote for five years after their release and only after they obtain two affidavits from local voters about their “upstanding moral character,” apply to the board of elections, and receive unanimous approval. Over 80 percent of those with a criminal record in the state are black. The state will also ban “incompetent” people from voting even if the person’s mental health issues have nothing to do with their ability to understand voting.
Yet outsider groups—those “carpet baggers”—can more easily donate money for electioneering while the law reduces disclosure of money sources. Contribution limits are raised from $4,000 to $5,000 per person and links future increases to inflation.
During 2012, 56 percent of North Carolinians—more blacks than whites—voted early; 78 percent of voters support the current early voting system. Over 155,000 voters used same-day registration in 2012. Many black citizens voted the Sunday before Election Day, no longer possible.
The Assembly will most likely continue to be GOP-controlled because of conservative gerrymandering of legislative maps helped by the voter oppression law. The Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act because the conservative majority did not see on-going racist problems in voting laws. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca even bragged that they wouldn’t have to bother with Section 5 of the VRA.
North Carolina Republicans claim that the law will combat voter fraud and insure integrity in polling places. Between 2000 and 2010, for a total of 6 election cycles, North Carolina had a grand total of two allegations of voter impersonations and zero convictions. Once again the political party that decries an expansion of government has done exactly that. The state claims to need money, but just the voting mandates will cost between $3 million and $20 million dollars.
I can visualize GOP legislators in all the other GOP-controlled states salivating as they wait to go back into session and copy all North Carolina’s laws. The country is going to need many more Moral Monday members.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has filed a federal court challenge to force Texas to obtain “pre-clearance” before implementing future voting changes. Perhaps he will do the same in North Carolina. would go after North Carolina’s voter ID law, which would be the strictest in the country.