Raleigh, N.C. — Using Easter imagery, various voting rights groups railed Friday against proposals to cut back early voting and eliminate same-day registration in North Carolina.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, and Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, filed bills this week that would reduce the early voting period from two weeks to one and eliminate same-day voter registration. Starnes' proposal also would outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting.
"The legislature is trying to crucify voting rights in this state," said Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president.
While millions of people are focused on love and charity during Holy Week, Barber said, Republican lawmakers are trying to divide people and act as tyrants.
"We know that if you push truth down, it gets up and resurrects itself. If you push justice down, it gets up and resurrects itself," he said.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said early voting isn't a partisan tool, noting that both Republicans and Democrats like the flexibility it offers. More than 2 million voters, or about 57 percent of those who voted statewide, used one-stop sites in the 2012 general election.
But young and black voters are more likely to be affected by the loss of same-day registration, Hall said, which would disproportionately hit Democrats.
Tillman said the rules are the same for everyone, so reducing early voting provides no advantage or disadvantage to anyone.
"Democrats can go vote early. Republicans can go vote early. How does it make sense to say it harms somebody? It does not," he said.
Hall noted that the two bills also make it easier for mail-in absentee voting, which traditionally favors Republicans.
"Basically, what's going on here is a form of voter fraud," he said. "(Lawmakers are) systematically trying to cheat people who have been able to use the tools of democracy."
Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University who heads the NAACP's Legal Redress Committee, said the GOP-controlled legislature is trying to undermine the constitution for its own benefit.
"What we have is a legislature that's bent on taking away a fundamental component of democracy of their state," Joyner said. "They take the position) 'We want to have only certain people able to vote, and those certain people are us. The rest of the people be damned.'"
Starnes denied that his plan to eliminate Sunday voting is aimed at black churches, which often hold "souls to the polls" events.
"It's not targeting anybody. I think it's just honoring the Sabbath," he said.
Allison Riggs, a voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, called the proposals "unjustified, illegal and unconstitutional barriers to voting." She predicted the public would respond unfavorably to such overreaching legislation, just as Florida voters have.
Florida gained national attention for eight-hour lines and voting problems in the 2012 election after Republican lawmakers there enacted similar legislation to limit early voting.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott supported Florida's legislation when he signed it in 2011, but after last fall's debacle, he's now proposing to roll back the restrictions and restore early voting hours.
"North Carolinians love early voting," Riggs said. "North Carolinians love same-day registration."
The groups said they would hold a strategy session next Tuesday, plan to generate as much public and political opposition to the proposals and are prepared to fight any early voting changes in court.
"There are no prohibitions in the constitution as to when a person is able to vote, yet these legislators would now like to confine voting to a particular day in a particular way," Joyner said. "That we reject, and we will fight until hell freezes over."