Exile on Jones Street: Welcome to the machine

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

To my demure friends and colleagues: There’s really no reason to tiptoe around the vote suppression going on. It’s all pretty much right out in the open now.

Face it: There’s yet to be a credible excuse for all the changes to our voting laws beyond a vague worry that there are some people somewhere who are somewhat unconfident in the system.

Outside of that, no one has provided a reason why the end of Sunday voting and same-day registration, along with an abbreviated early-voting period, makes any sense. No one has offered a credible reason why we should no longer encourage people to be registered when they turn 18.

The hardcore fact is the changes to our laws were political acts made to reduce turnout. They were rammed through the legislature in a partisan gambit to game the system for one side’s advantage. It was the second punch of a one-two combination that started with redistricting. And now, we see the follow-up to that strategy in the form of manipulation at the local level.

As you may recall from last week’s tedious column about various threats to the republic, the Watauga County Board of Elections set up an early-voting plan that did not include an on-campus early-voting location at Appalachian State University. The history of on-campus early voting throughout the state has shown that it increases participation in elections by students and staff. It’s worked especially well in Boone, where in 2012 the student union accounted for more than a third of the county’s total early vote.

In 2012, the governor, like many of those voters, was a Democrat. Now, two years later, the governor and the majority on local boards of elections are Republican and there’s no on-campus voting site — a plan approved by the State Board of Elections — which also has a Republican majority.

Last week, a judge ruled that the only reason for the change was to reduce access for students, which is unconstitutional.

The state has now appealed that ruling asserting that it is perfectly constitutional to reduce student access and to undo the move to would put an undue burden on the locals so close to the election.

Wrap your head around that.

If you haven’t already guessed, what we’re witnessing here in the state of North Carolina is the creation of a new political machine.

Like all political machines, it’s organized to keep its creators in power. Its operators are proving adept at using all the levers of power left in place by their predecessors and they even got a few back recently thanks to a Supreme Court that conveniently forgot that Jim Crow-era tactics were just waiting in the wings for the end of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, unburdened by pre-clearance and oversight from federal authorities, a wave of old-school suppression is spreading across the South once again, dressed up as anti-fraud and voting-integrity efforts.

We are likely to see some backlash this year in North Carolina where there is a lot of fight and outrage. But you cannot rely on indignation to carry the day.

In that regard, this year’s battles in the courts and at the ballot box are the preliminary matches for a bigger fight two years from now, when even more voting restrictions kick in and the governorship and, with it, the election boards are on the line.

If you think this year is a hell of a thing, just wait.