In North Carolina, a law imposing severe restrictions on voting was struck down by a federal appeal court on July 29, and this ruling could be considered a huge win for proponents of democracy and racial equality. The law in question could have been best described as comprehensively discriminatory by enacting numerous restrictions and stipulations that would have ultimately made it difficult for impoverished, minority voters to engage in the democratic process. In addition to limitations placed on acceptable photo identification, the law also placed restrictions on “early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration,” which combined form a systematic method by which a specific section of the population would be disproportionately affected.
The rationale that is easiest to defend when it comes to voter-registration laws that are almost inherently discriminatory in nature is the fear of voter fraud. However, the actual probability and likelihood of widespread voter fraud in no way equates to the measures taken to ensure that it does not come about, as was the case in North Carolina. Most troubling is that in North Carolina specifically, research was done to find the least-common form of photo identification used by African-American voters, and this form of ID was the one lawmakers made into the necessary form of identification for voter registration.
While we may have done away with poll taxes and literacy tests, the fact remains that there are parts of the country that still see the law as the primary way to continue legacies of institutionalized racism. In a democracy, the power lies in the collective voice of the people, and as a result, there are two ways to gain and secure power. The first and acceptable means of doing so is by aligning oneself with the people’s intent and earnestly representing that intent. The second, and quite frankly wrong way, is to quiet the dissenting voice by using law or intimidation as a means to mute unruly swathes of the population. In a democracy, a person’s voice only carries weight when it can be heard, and it is clear to see that the intention of North Carolina’s voter-registration law was to deafen our ears.
It was no accident that these voting restrictions were put in place in North Carolina “in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African-American participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarizing vote.” It should serve as a reminder to those wishing to be truly politically active that what you don’t hear is just as important as what you can, because a sole voice of oppression can speak loudest over a hushed, albeit discontent crowd.
We would love to assume that those in charge of drafting our laws are doing so with the goal of acting in our best interests, but it has become all too common for those in power to be more preoccupied with retaining their own power. The danger in this mentality is that at times it can be dependent on amplifying the voice of their supporters at the expense of the traditionally marginalized and disenfranchised. It is not enough to rest comfortably in the notion that one’s job in a democratic nation is done once their voice has been heard and accounted for. In a democracy, one’s job is not done until all have had their chance to have their voices heard.