North Carolina’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature spent more taxpayer money defending their voter ID law — which was recently struck down as unconstitutional — than the state spent hiring outside lawyers over the previous decade.
New data reveals state leaders spent nearly 5 million dollars since 2011 defending a voting law that “bears the mark of intentional discrimination,” according to the federal court that ruled against the state in July.
The law in question eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ended straight-ticket voting, and scrapped a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day. It also mandated one of the country’s strictest voter ID requirements, which does not count student IDs.
Before passing the law, the court found, the legislature studied the voting habits of African Americans, and “with almost surgical precision” got rid of the voting accommodations they depended on the most. As the vast majority of black voters in the state — as well as the nation — lean Democrat, the civil rights groups that challenged the law characterized it as Republicans’ attempt to maintain political power.
After learning how much the state had spent trying to uphold the law, Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) told ThinkProgress such spending was “indefensible.”
“There are so many more important priorities for the state instead of defending taking away the rights of our citizens,” he said. “We should be making it easy for everyone to vote in our state. I’m very happy that the court overturned this blatant racism against African-American voters.”
According to the same report, North Carolina Republicans spent an additional $3.5 million defending their heavily gerrymandered voting maps from lawsuits arguing they are racially and politically motivated. While the state split nearly evenly between Democrats and Republicans in 2012, Republicans won 9 of the state’s 13 seats in the U.S. House, and nearly 75 percent of the seats in the state legislature thanks in large part to favorable maps drawn by Republicans.
Brockman says his own District 60 is a prime example. “It shows the North Carolina Republicans are afraid of free and fair elections and being accountable to the voters for their actions,” he said. “They wanted to tilt the balance in their favor.”
The new spending data comes as some North Carolina counties consider more election changes likely to trigger legal challenges.
The Republican-controlled county that holds Greensboro, a city with a rich history of civil rights activism, attempted this week to slash the number of early voting sites in half, scrapping the locations most-used by the county’s black voters and students. The plan would have also eliminated Sunday voting, which has been heavily used by African American church groups in previous elections.
Wake County, the seat of the state capitol Raleigh, tried to do the same. A Republican on the county’s Board of Elections called a vote on a plan to cut early voting sites on university campuses and end Sunday voting.
Both county plans were defeated after community members and voting rights organizers rallied in opposition by the hundreds. Jen Jones with the advocacy group Democracy North Carolina called these votes a “tremendous victory,” but warned other counties in the state may pursue similar cuts that negatively impact voters of color.
“After the Fourth Circuit ruling [striking down the state’s voting restrictions], the only control the GOP now has are the Boards of Elections they have in almost every county,” she explained. “Sites can be cut, even popular ones, at the discretion of the county board, and hours can be cut too.”