As North Carolina lawmakers prepare to pass what is widely considered one of the most restrictive voter identification bills in the country, activists arrested while protesting the law say they plan to carry on with their protests.
Bree Newsome, one of six protesters arrested and taken to jail Wednesday night after staging a sit-in at the office of the Republican North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, said the group is still demanding a meeting with Tillis, who supports the bill.
"We want to ask him, 'why do you support a bill making it more difficult for North Carolinians to vote?'" she said on Thursday. "If Representative Tillis cannot answer our question and if he cannot reasonably explain why it's a good idea to reduce the participation of North Carolina voters, then he should kill the bill."
Tillis, who is running for the United States Senate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Unlike many of the state voter ID laws that have taken root in recent years, the latest version of the North Carolina measure doesn't allow students to use their school IDs to vote. Critics say that students, as well asminorities and low-income people, could see their electoral clout diminished as a result of the bill.
Joshua Vincent, a 30-year-old graduate student at North Carolina Central University and one of the protesters arrested last night, said that he saw the bill as an attempt to silence the voices of many progressive-leaning groups, students among them.
“North Carolina has one of the largest public university systems in the country,” he said. “There are tens of thousands of students that are living here for a majority part of the year, and what the legislation is essentially saying to them is that even though you live here for the majority of your time, you don’t have a say-so in the government.”
The bill, which is likely to pass the Legislature Thursday night as the session comes to a close, requires all voters in the state to display specific forms of government-issued identification, cuts early voting by a week, ends same-day registration, and imposes other restrictions on voting that could disenfranchise North Carolina residents, especially those inclined to vote for Democrats, critics say.
Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and the author of "The Voting Wars," described it as "the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.”
Supporters of the legislation say it's needed to combat voter fraud, despite reports suggesting that the problem is extremely rare.
Hans von Spakovsky, a prominent proponent of voter ID laws who testified in favor of the North Carolina bill in a hearing this spring, said that voter ID legislation is "just one of a number of steps that we should take to protect the integrity of the election."
In June, a 5-4 Supreme Court majority effectively opened the way for the North Carolina measure. In its landmark decision on the federal Voting Rights Act, the court ruled that jurisdictions in North Carolina and other areas with extensive histories of discrimination would no longer have to clear their electoral with the federal government.
In all, more than 900 people have been arrested in Raleigh over the last four months while protesting the voter bill and other conservative items on the agenda of the state's GOP-led legislature.