Why Are Black People Protesting in NC?

Rally at the North Carolina General Assembly (YouTube)
Rally at the North Carolina General Assembly (YouTube)

(The Root) — Remember when North Carolina voted for a Democratic presidential nominee (Barack Obama) for the first time in three decades in 2008? And elected its first female governor that same year? Or that black voters in the state outperformed whites (pdf) in the last two presidential elections?


Republicans remember. Now that they completely control state government, they are trying to eliminate policies that aided those electoral shifts.

Cue the voting rules, of course. State lawmakers in the current legislative session are expected to pass bills that would stop same-day voter registration, reduce the early-voting period, end balloting on the Sunday before Election Day and impose a five-year wait for ex-convicts to regain the voting privilege.

And parents of college students, beware: If your son or daughter registers to vote at a school address, you would lose your $2,500 child-dependency tax deduction.

And because it seems that no Republican-led state is complete without imposing a photo-identification law on voters, that requirement is also expected to pass soon in the Tar Heel State. (If you thought the voter-ID debate ended with last year's election, think again: The proposal was introduced in 12 more states this year and is now pending in 30 states.)

Opponents say that voter-ID laws can disproportionately harm blacks, Latinos, seniors and young people who don't have government-issued photo identification. Critics say that this population includes as many as 30,000 registered voters in North Carolina.

The proposals are the latest of several moves by the Legislature and newly elected Republican Gov. Pat McCrory that have ignited protests and arrests of dozens of demonstrators at the state capitol in Raleigh. The demonstrators, led by a range of groups such as the NAACP and Raging Grannies, returned to the capitol on Monday, when more than four dozen people were arrested.


Legislation already passed in this session is a greatest-hits list for conservatives:

* Sharp cuts in unemployment benefits, despite North Carolina having the fourth-highest jobless rate in the nation, at 9.2 percent — and with joblessness for African Americans hovering around 17 percent.


* A reduced earned-income tax credit for low-income families.

* Refusal to implement Obamacare and accept federal funds to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to more poor people.


"This Legislature is threatening to return this state to the policies of [the] '50s and '60s," says the Rev. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., a professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte and a leader of that city's NAACP branch, who was arrested in a protest last week. "The faith community has to speak out against this effort to enact policies that negatively impact the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable among us."

The opposition also includes black lawmakers, most of whom are Democrats. Their party lacks enough members in either chamber to block passage of the bills.


The voting procedures under attack were widely used (pdf) by North Carolinians, not just minorities, last year. More than half of all voters, including 70 percent of blacks, used early balloting. Same-day registration added 97,000 to the rolls and allowed another 150,000 to update their information to remain eligible. And 61,000 people voted on the Sunday before Election Day, particularly through the Souls to the Polls program run by black churches.

Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.