If the past is any indicator, only around 40 percent of eligible voters will vote in this midterm election. Most people assume voter turnout remains this low because Americans are apathetic and simply don’t want to vote. But it’s more likely that most Americans do want to vote, and one of the root causes of low turnout is this country’s framework of restrictive voting laws.
As a senior in high school, many of my friends are able to vote this fall. Yet I cannot. As a 17-year-old, I have very little agency in this election. Regardless of the fact that our government’s policies affect me, I cannot cast a ballot. Many adults seem to forget what a privilege it is to vote. Voting is the most influential way a citizen can make their voice heard and affect their government. Yet right now in North Carolina, the right to vote is under attack.
There are institutional barriers that impact voter turnout. Among the most commonly cited examples are the following: difficulty of registration, difficulty of absentee voting and purposefully discriminatory laws, like Georgia’s “exact match” law. North Carolina is currently set to vote on an incredibly discriminatory voting law this fall. Toward the end of the ballot, voters will find a constitutional amendment stating: “Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”
A voter ID law is nothing new to North Carolina. In 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed a law requiring citizens to present a reliable form of identification to vote. The twist: Only certain forms of ID were “reliable.” The 2013 law said acceptable IDs were North Carolina driver licenses, special ID cards, passports, veteran identification cards, military identification cards, tribal identification cards and driver’s licenses from other states for voters who registered within three months of the election. Yet the law excluded some forms of photo ID, such as government employee identification cards and student IDs. The discrepancy in what forms of ID were acceptable was telling. Not long after the law was passed, the [4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals] struck it down. Only for this reason can thousands of people across North Carolina still vote.
Unsurprisingly, voter ID laws tend to target minority and low-income voters. “State figures compiled in 2015 found about 281,000 people in North Carolina who did not have a driver’s license or state ID card. A disproportionate share were African-Americans, who strongly tend to vote Democratic,” [according to a recent Asheville Citizen Times article]. North Carolina’s General Assembly is currently dominated by Republicans. Recognizing this, it is abundantly clear that Republicans are trying to steal power from the voters by disenfranchising the groups that tend to vote for the opposition.
The effects of voter ID laws are devastating. A U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2014 looked at turnout in two states with voter ID laws: Kansas and Tennessee. It found that turnout declines were steeper in those states than in four others chosen for comparison. Drops in turnout were larger for registered voters ages 18-23 than they were for those ages 44-53, and the declines were bigger for African-American registrants than for white, Hispanic and Asian-American registered voters. If such laws were passed in North Carolina, there would be steep declines in voter turnout. The [League of Women Voters of North Carolina] and numerous other organizations in North Carolina are encouraging voters to vote against the amendment.
This fall, it is more important than ever to vote. Vote for people like me who cannot. Vote for the people whose rights will be stolen if a voter ID law passes. Vote for the democratic principles our country was founded on: equality and freedom of expression. Go to the polls and make your voice heard. This is a call on all eligible voters, regardless of party, race, gender or creed. On Nov. 6, the future of North Carolina falls on you.
— Elizabeth Greer