Eighty-six-year-old Reba Bowser has been voting since the Eisenhower era. After moving from New Hampshire to North Carolina last year, she went with her son on February 8 to get a government-issued photo ID that will allow her to vote in the state under a new voter-ID law beginning in the March primary.
“They decided to make an event of the process—a celebration of democracy,” The Charlotte Observer reported. “They went out to lunch. They filled out her voter registration form. They took a happy photo.”
Bowser brought her expired New Hampshire driver’s license, two different birth certificates, a Social Security card, a Medicare card, and her apartment lease with her to the DMV in Asheville. But she was denied a voter ID. Because the name on her birth certificate, Reba Witner Miller, did not perfectly match the name on her current documents, Reba M. Bowser, following her marriage in 1950, her application was rejected.
Her daughter-in-law Amy posted a furious message on Facebook, which was shared more than 25,000 times. Only after the outcry did the DMV admit it had made a mistake and issue Bowser a voter ID. The same thing happened to 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton, a civil-rights pioneer who passed a literacy test under Jim Crow and had been voting for 70 years but had to make 11 trips to state agencies just to comply with the new law.
This is the sad state of voting rights in North Carolina in 2016.
That’s why tens of thousands marched in Raleigh today to fight for voting rights, racial justice, and equality. They carried signs that read, “It’s Our Time, It’s Our Vote” and “Don’t Block The Ballot.”
“We say no to Jim Crow and we’re not going back,” the diverse crowd chanted.
Sixteen states have new voting restrictions in place since the 2012 election, and nowhere are the stakes higher than in North Carolina. The state passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions a month after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Thousands were turned away from the polls in 2014 by the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting. Its voter-ID law goes into effect for the first time in 2016 and is already leading to chaos. Just two weeks ago, a federal court invalidated two of the state’s GOP-drawn congressional districts as an illegal racial gerrymander.
There’s a good reason voting rights activists say “North Carolina is our Selma.” It’s a battle being wages in the courts, in the streets, and at the ballot box.
“The fight for voting rights is personal to me,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “It’s at the heart of our democracy. It is a battle we will not turn back from now.” The march was not just a statement: After the speeches, thousands pledged to organize get-out-the-vote campaigns in their communities for the 2016 election.
Despite the fact that 2016 is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA, the issue of voting rights has been ignored in 14 presidential debates so far. So many in the media focus on the presidential horse race while ignoring one of the most fundamental issues that will shape the election. Before the march began, Derick Smith, political action chair for the North Carolina NAACP, told me, “NC intends to make them hear us!!”