Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson testified in Washington D.C. Thursday, passionately arguing that people of all races and backgrounds are fully capable of obtaining voter identification and participating in a secure voting system.
“It’s time that we modernize our election system in this country and stop playing all these silly games based on race, and please stop using me as a Black man as your pawn, and yes, I said it,” implored Lt. Gov Robinson, a Republican serving as North Carolina’s first black lieutenant governor.
Much of the hearing focused on photo voter I.D. requirements, which North Carolina voters approved in voting for a Constitutional amendment in 2018. Although N.C.’s voter ID requirement is still being blocked and litigated, as opponents of the law have sued over the accompanying enabling legislation calling it racist with the intent to keep minorities from voting.
Robinson argued that it is insulting and degrading to African Americans to believe they are less capable of complying with the administrative requirement than whites and voters of other races.
“Am I to believe that Black Americans who have overcome the atrocities of slavery, who was victorious in the civil rights movement, and who now sit in the highest levels of government cannot figure out how to get a free ID to vote?” Robinson said. “That we need to be coddled by politicians because they don’t think we can figure out how to make our voices heard?
“We need to stop it at the insinuation that somehow the people in Washington, D.C. know better than the people in North Carolina. You. Do. Not. And we will not tolerate it,” Robinson said.
The hearing lacked focus on particular solutions or legislation, although it touched on H.R. 1, a massive federal overtaking of voting laws that has already passed the U.S. House, but will not pass the U.S. Senate unless Democrats are able to end the filibuster rule.
Rev. William Barber, former head of the North Carolina NAACP, testified via video to the hearing of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, saying that Jim Crow “dresses in a suit” in his home state of North Carolina, thanks to the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder.
The Supreme Court’s conservative members argued that the conditions that justified preclearance, a requirement that basically any change to voting procedures, locations, times, and rules be pre-approved by the federal government in 1965 were no longer relevant in 2013.
“Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. While racial disparities in voter registration and turnout “was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula” in 1965, Roberts said that “there is no longer such a disparity.”
Barber told the committee that Shelby, North Carolina saw “the worst voter suppression laws since the days of Jim Crow.” Barber referred to North Carolina’s HB 589, which reduced early voting days, eliminated same-day voter registration, prevented counties from counting provisional ballots if the voter cast the ballot outside of their home precinct, and required photo ID. The law was eventually struck down in the courts as intentionally racially discriminatory.
The Shelby ruling released nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia — from the previous preclearance coverage formula. The ruling also affected some counties and townships in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.
It’s important to note that the ruling itself did not find Section 5 unconstitutional and instead focused solely on the coverage formula in Section 4b. To resume using Section 5, the court said that Congress, which created the VRA in 1965, needed to enact a different, constitutional preclearance requirement. But Congress, despite the efforts of Democrats, still has not done so.
Should Congressional Democrats choose to fix the coverage formula from Section 5, the Voting Right Act would again be in full force. However, from a political standpoint, this has proven practically impossible. A new coverage formula would no longer be focused on the Deep South but would likely cover vast areas of the Democrat-controlled Northeast which has had more than its fair share of complicated voting rights issues in the recent past.