Churches in North Carolina Respond to Voting Limits

Signs are pictured during a voter registration drive for National Voter Registration Day outside Convention Center in Los Angeles, California September 22, 2015.   REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX1RXU8
Signs are pictured during a voter registration drive for National Voter Registration Day outside Convention Center in Los Angeles, California September 22, 2015. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni – RTX1RXU8

The Rev. Jemonde Taylor observed the political process in action for the first time as a kindergartener when his father brought him along to the polling place.

“We went into the booth and pulled the curtain, and I watched him punch the card,” he recalled. “I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, but I remember that.”

That early memory stuck with Taylor throughout the years, perhaps because he grew up hearing his father’s account of trying to register to vote as a young black man in the South and listening to the story of his grandmother not being able to cast a ballot for the first time until she was in her seventies.

Now, as the rector of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Taylor is leading his church’s voter registration and advocacy efforts. Working for widespread access to political and civic life is in St. Ambrose’s DNA. The historically black church served as the starting place for marches through downtown Raleigh during the 1960s to protest disenfranchisement of black voters, and several parishioners are old enough to remember the church’s roles as a stop during the 1961 Freedom Rides.

“Since before I’ve been here – four years in September – there have always been voter registration pamphlets on a table in the narthex next to sign-up sheets for vacation Bible school and homecoming,” Taylor said. When voter laws change, a frequent occurrence in North Carolina in recent years, the church sets out fact sheets explaining the changes and reminding people of their voting rights, he added.

Fact sheets have proved a valuable tool here where the state assembly and the governor have called for tighter voter restrictions. On Aug. 15 the governor said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate a voter ID law and to let counties decided to extend or shorten early voting. The governor’s request followed a July 29 federal appeals court ruling that struck down a 2013 law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly setting strict voter ID requirements, reducing the state’s early voting period and eliminating same-day registration and provisional balloting for people voting in the wrong precinct. Opponents of the legislation argued that it places a disproportionate burden on black and Latino voters, college students and older adults. Since its passage, the law faced several legal challenges and modifications, leading to widespread confusion among voters about exactly how and when they can vote.

The appeals court held “that the law had been enacted with racially discriminatory intent” and target African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” The governor maintains that the ID requirement is a model for other states enforcing similar laws unchallenged.

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Source: Episcopal News Service | Summerlee Walter