Politics & Policy

The Left’s Faux Martyr

Ninety-two-year-old Rosanell Eaton’s ability to vote is unharmed by North Carolina’s new law.

The Left has a new martyr. Rosanell Eaton is a 92-year-old black woman with a compelling story about the harm done to vulnerable people, especially members of minority groups, by North Carolina’s new voter-ID law.

But none of it holds up. Rosanell Eaton isn’t a martyr at all, in fact.

The law, signed by Republican governor Pat McCrory a week ago, ends same-day voter registration, pre-registration of high-school students prior to their 18th birthday, and straight-ticket voting. It also reduces the number of days of early voting by a week, from 17 days to 10 (though early-voting hours and locations will be expanded, keeping the total number of hours available the same). But the major, most controversial feature of the law requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

Liberals have trotted out the usual overwrought rhetoric. Chris Brooks, the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation called the law a “blatant attempt” to make it more difficult to vote, and the Reverend Dr. William Barber, the president of the North Carolina NAACP, has labeled it “voter suppression straight up” and “an outright attempt to manipulate voting.”

Mrs. Eaton, their standard-bearer, has just the sort of personal history that critics of the law want to bring to the fore. It indeed speaks to the country’s racist past: Mrs. Eaton was one of the first blacks to register to vote in her county, after completing a literacy test that required her to recite the preamble to the Constitution. Given that personal history, she deserves to be hailed for her intrepid commitment to voting rights.

The Left’s case, though, is that she’s facing the same sort of obstacle today.

Mrs. Eaton and the North Carolina state conference of the NAACP claim in a federal lawsuit that the law will directly injure her because it means she will “incur substantial time and expense” reconciling her driver’s license and her birth certificate with her voter-registration record, all three of which have different spellings of her name.

This is flatly false for at least four different reasons.

First, she already has a driver’s license, as the lawsuit concedes. This is an important point because so much of the criticism of the law relies on the assumption that many people in the Tar Heel State don’t have valid photo identification, and thus will be blocked from voting. But the woman whom the Left wants to make the face of the victims already has valid ID.

ThinkProgress declares that reconciling her voting registration with her ID will be a “costly and time-consuming administrative endeavor.” Nonsense. If she wants to change her license to match her voting record, she doesn’t need her birth certificate to do it.

North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles does accept a birth certificate as one way of proving age and identity when renewing or registering for a license, but only one of many. It’s hard to believe that Mrs. Eaton lacks all of the other documents that the DMV accepts — especially since she has been able to renew her license up to this point.

To prove her age and identity, Mrs. Eaton could present a pair of any of the following documents: her current driver’s license; a certified or uncertified North Carolina driver’s record; documents from a North Carolina school (a transcript/registration signed by a school official; a diploma or GED from a school, community college, or university); her Social Security Card; tax forms that reflect her full name and Social Security Number; a certified marriage certificate; or documents from a court with U.S. jurisdiction such as a divorce decree, adoption papers, or a court order for a change of name or child support.

If for some reason she doesn’t want to deal with renewing her driver’s license, she might choose to acquire a state ID card after January 1, 2014, which she can also use to prove her identity at the polls. The same type of documents that prove her identity for a driver’s license are applicable here, but there’s no charge for obtaining a state ID if the applicant is over 70 years old, legally blind, or homeless, or has had his driver’s license revoked due to a physical or mental disability or disease.

The birth-certificate issue is a red herring, plain and simple.

Second, if Mrs. Eaton chooses not to change the name on her photo ID to match her voting record, she could do the reverse. According to Lisa Goswick, the director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, Mrs. Eaton would need to request a verification form, make the corrections to her name on the back, and then show her driver’s license. The process, Goswick says, can be done in about five minutes.

I asked Goswick if Mrs. Eaton — who has lived her entire life within seven miles of her birthplace in Louisburg, N.C., worked as an assistant poll worker for 40 years, and registered more than 4,000 people to vote — is likely familiar with the process. “By working with us all these years, yes sir, she should be,” Goswick said.

Third, if making the trip to the local board of elections — apparently less than ten miles from her home — sometime over the next three years before the law goes into effect in 2016 is too inconvenient, she has yet another option. Goswick confirmed that Mrs. Eaton could update her information on Election Day through the use of an Authorization to Vote form. In other words, if Mrs. Eaton had to show a photo ID at a polling place tomorrow, she would still be able to vote, her mismatching documents notwithstanding.

Finally, there’s still another option if her voter record and documents don’t match by the 2016 election cycle, when the ID provision goes into effect. ”Should anyone legitimately not be able to get a photo ID, they would still be able to vote absentee,” Republican state representative David Lewis, the head of the North Carolina House Election Law Committee, told me. According to Mrs. Eaton’s voter record, she has voted via absentee ballot six times since 2002.

All of this is why Lewis insists that “it’s absolutely false to claim that her right to vote has in any way been infringed upon because she may have difficulty getting a photo ID.”

There isn’t a single thing in the new law that will prevent Mrs. Eaton from voting. Her claim rests on the allegation that it would be less costly and time-consuming to sue the state of North Carolina than to run an errand or send a few pieces of mail.

— Sterling Beard is a contributor to National Review Online.


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