Raleigh, N.C. — Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a nine-term Democrat who represents Orange and Chatham counties in the legislature, resigned her post Monday.
Kinnaird, 81, is one of only 17 Democrats in the 50-member state Senate. With the House and governor's mansion also controlled by Republicans, any Democrat's ability to stop or influence legislation, particularly controversial measures, is limited.
One of the state's most liberal lawmakers, the Chapel Hill attorney thanked her constituents for the honor of representing them in Raleigh, but described the last three years under Republican leadership as a "great disappointment."
"To see my 17 years of work really dismantled – my environmental work, my death penalty work, my justice and public safety work," she said, "that’s heartbreaking."
"While I've done good things, I can’t do it anymore under these circumstances. So better to let someone who can maybe start again," Kinnaird told WRAL.
In her news release, Kinnaird said her "energy and time is best spent to help get Democrats elected statewide and restore our standing as a progressive beacon of light in the Southeast. I am also working on a grassroots effort to assure that people have a voter ID and are registered to vote."
An elections law passed this summer will require all residents to have photo identification when they go to the polls, starting in 2016. It also makes a number of other elections changes, including banning out-of-precinct voting, straight-ticket voting, and same-day registration.
"This is a very serious suppression of voting, and I want to make sure that we get as many people prepared to vote, registered to vote, and informed, so that they can actually have a vote that counts," Kinnaird said.
Kinnaird told WRAL she plans to work with churches and community groups to reach out to people who might lack the required ID. She said that project would be especially challenging for students on college campuses, who may have trouble gathering the needed documents and reaching a Division of Motor Vehicles location to obtain the needed ID.
She said she would also be working with college groups to push back against efforts to close early voting sites on campuses.
"Watauga County took away the early voting site from the student campus. We are afraid they will do that across the state. Again, another suppression of a significant vote for Democrats – pretty obvious what they're doing," Kinnaird said.
Kinnaird's replacement will be chosen by an executive committee made up of Democratic officials from Orange and Chatham counties. Gov. Pat McCrory will then appoint that person to fill the remainder of Kinnaird's term.