GOP Assault on Voting Rights Demands Action

Troubadours call us to action against North Carolina Republican lawmakers and officials that continue to suppress voting

By Michael M. Barrick 

BOONE, N.C. – North Carolina Republican lawmakers and Board of Election officials in Raleigh and in numerous counties across the state have launched an attack upon voting rights unlike anything seen in 50 years.

The latest evidence is found in a New York Times article headlined, “North Carolina Republicans Accused of Dodging Order to Fix Election Rules.” In it, the newspaper reports that a federal appeals court ruling overturning much of North Carolina’s Voter ID law because it purposely designed to discourage blacks is being undermined. Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision.

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Watauga Board of Elections members Nancy Owen (left) and Chairman Bill Aceto. Both are Republicans and opposed all efforts at placing an early voting location on the ASU campus. Photo Credit: Lonnie Webster

The article noted, “In each of the state’s 100 counties, local elections boards scheduled new hearings and last week filed the last of their new election rules with the state.” The article continued, “ Now, critics are accusing some of the boards, all of which are controlled by Republicans, of staging an end run around a court ruling they are supposed to carry out. Like the law that was struck down, say voting rights advocacy groups and some Democrats who are contesting the rewritten election plans, many election plans have been intentionally written to suppress the black vote.”

GOP strategy is to obstruct, not encourage, voting

That is true. That such racial injustice continues 150 years after the end of the Civil War is unconscionable. Yet, not only is the black vote being suppressed. So are tens of thousands of other voters throughout the state – some by design, some by the misfortune of being pawns of the Republican Party’s effort to rig the November election.

I witnessed this first hand on Aug. 15 at a public hearing held in Boone by the Watauga County Board of Elections. The Board was unable to adopt a plan for its county. The early voting location at Appalachian State University is the point of contention. Students, faculty and the chancellor want it at the Plemmons Student Union, as more than 15,000 early voters used that location in 2012. Republican Chairman Bill Aceto opposed using the student union as he had previously. He offered no reason, only saying, “I have my concerns.”

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A crowd of about 140 listen to a student from ASU speak to the Watauga County Board of Elections. Photo credit: Lonnie Webster

All of the 140 or so folks in the room knew something was amiss, for none who spoke supported Aceto’s plan, but instead insisted upon using the same locations as in 2012. When the Board failed to reach a conclusion and suddenly adjourned, the crowd erupted in indignation. That they had been treated rudely by Aceto throughout the meeting didn’t help. He had constantly threatened to have law enforcement remove any individual who dared to even clap in support of a speaker’s remarks.

It was arrogance and ignorance on display, and it was ugly. It wasn’t long before we found out why. Aceto’s “reasons” were found in an email sent to all GOP county Board of Elections members from Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. The New York Times article notes that Woodhouse, “ … stated that Republican election officials ‘can and should make party-line changes’ to the rules governing early voting periods, and urged them to oppose other measures — like Sunday hours for early voting sites, and polling places on college campuses — that are commonly said to aid Democratic turnout.”

In Watuaga County, that means one early voting location if Aceto has his way. In the Republican Party’s determination to suppress the ASU vote, they also suppressed voters throughout the county that is still quite rural by also taking away their early voting locations. To suppress voting rights is to assault the most basic American liberty. It cannot be allowed to stand.

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A citizen addresses the Watauga County Board of Elections. Photo credit: Lonnie Webster

Clearly, the North Carolina Republican Party continues to do everything it can to violate the spirit and letter of the law. We do not have the luxury to stand by while lawyers bicker back and forth. There are reasons the GOP wants to suppress your vote. It is determined to destroy the public school system. It is determined to continue to cut taxes for the rich. It disrespects teachers, scientists, health care officials and university professors and administrators.

The GOP has fostered hate among and between this great state’s people through constant attacks upon those in the LGBTQ community. It supports corporate welfare. It disregards the science of climate change. It cares nothing for creation.

Action required

So, we just don’t have time to wait on the courts. Even if the courts should eventually restore voting rights completely in North Carolina, all of the other issues remain unresolved.

So, it is time for us to act – now! November 8 is Election Day. There will be some early voting.

Therefore, whatever is ultimately decided by the powers-that-be, I hope every student at ASU will overwhelm the precincts on Election Day and during early voting with thousands and thousands of voters. In the interim, make signs. Hold rallies. Make noise.

In communities where the poor and vulnerable need help getting to the polls, organize or work with existing groups to get people to the polls.

Monitor the polls during early voting periods and on Election Day. Learn the law and watch for fraud. Use social media to alert people to any suspicious activity immediately. Use social media to get your friends out to vote.

Call upon the State Board of Elections to support the One Stop Early Voting Plan put forward by the Watauga County branch of the NAACP. It calls for a 17 day One-Stop Early Voting period with voting hours being 8:00 am – 6:30 pm weekdays, Saturdays 8:00 am – 5:00 pm, and Sundays 1:00 – 6:00 pm. The group proposes six locations across Watauga County, including: Plemmons Student Union; Watauga County Administration Building; Blowing Rock Town Hall; Western Watauga Community Center; Deep Gap Fire Department; and, the Meat Camp Fire Department.

Call upon the State Board of Elections to remember where our most basic “ground rules” for voting are found – the United States Constitution. The 15th Amendment, the 19th Amendment, the 24th Amendment and the 26th Amendment all guarantee voting rights. Remind them also of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To make sure they listen, exercise your First Amendment rights vigorously. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We all hear from the GOP about religious freedom, but from what I saw in Boone, they’re not particularly keen on the other freedoms guaranteed. They get downright annoyed when the people peaceably assembly, speak and petition them with their grievances.

Good. It’s time to do more than annoy them. It’s time to call them out and kick them out.

Response must be peaceful

In case you’re hesitant or unsure about speaking and acting out, it might be instructive to let some of the troubadours of the Civil Rights / Vietnam War era speak to us. Though more than 40-years-old, all of the tunes have lyrics that have to do with what Joe Walsh would call, “relevant stuff.” (Click on the links to hear each entire song; in fact, please do, as I think you’ll instantly understand why they have inspired and motivated my generation for decades).

Let’s start with a few lines from “Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills & Nash on their 1969 self-titled album.

“Turn, turn any corner / Hear, you must hear what the people say / You know there’s something that’s goin’ on around here / That surely, surely, surely won’t stand the light of day, no …

“Speak out! You got to speak out against the madness / You got to speak your mind if you dare …”

If you dare! Yes, there is risk in exercising your First Amendment rights. It must be risky, otherwise Republicans wouldn’t try to keep you from voting. So, let’s next consider these lyrics form Chicago’s “Dialogue Part I & II.” It was recorded on “Chicago V,” released in 1972. The lyrics are an exchange between two friends.

The first speaker asks, “Don’t you every worry / When you see what’s going down?” The response is, “No, I try to mind my business / that is, no business at all.”

Then, the first asks, “Will you try to change things, / use the power that you have, / the power of a million new ideas?” The response: “What is this power you speak of / and this need for things to change? / I always thought that everything was fine.”

The first, getting frustrated, almost demands, “Don’t you feel repression / just closing in around”? The second person responds, apathetically, “No, the campus here is very, very free.”

Ironic huh? The campus at Appalachian State is suddenly not feeling “very, very free” at all. Yet, in Part II of the song, the lyrics conclude, “We can make it happen / We can change the world now / We can save the children / We can make it better.”

That, too, is true.

Not without risks, however, as we learn from “49 Bye Byes / America’s Children” on “4 Way Street,” also by Crosby, Stills & Nash. It is a live album recorded in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the summer of 1970 with Neil Young. While the group also released a studio version, this live version reveals the urgency of the moment, as Stills challenges the audience through the lyrics.

“Well it looks to me like there’s a few politicians hanging around children / Perpetrating some kind of myth on us all, all right / Talking ‘bout what a drag all the kids are, yeah / Cause they got the guts to get out in the streets and tell the truth every day / Making it a little hot for them, you know, all right.”

Indeed. Making it a little hot for them is exactly what is called for. Protesting is not necessarily safe, though, as we learn from these lines from the tune: “And you got to be brave children / How many is it that they shot down already? / Something like 17 of us. / But you know we gotta do it / We gotta keep on keeping on / Because if we don’t do it, nobody else is gonna.”

Listen, though, to what Stephen Stills says next, and consider today’s religious right as you do so. “But you know if we can’t do it with a smile on our face / You know if we can’t do it with love in our hearts / then children we ain’t got no right to do it at all / Because it just means we ain’t learned nothing yet / We’re supposed to be some kind of different / And I don’t know if I want white America to remember or to forget / That Jesus Christ was the first non-violent revolutionary / Dig it.”

Do not hesitate to love

Finally, have hope. Commit to live as Seals & Crofts aspire to in their tune, “Ruby Jean and Billy Lee” from their 1973 album, “Diamond Girl.”

“We’ll have children, of the Kingdom / They won’t be torn by war, nor will they / Kill or hate or hesitate to love.”

Let us not hesitate to love. Sadly, in this season, that means we need to stand in the gap to stop an injustice. In the face of such behavior, it is difficult to challenge and confront in love. But we must. The easiest way is at the ballot box. First, though, you have to make sure you and others have access to it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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