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Protesters Denounce NC General Assembly Lame Duck Session

Rusty Jacobs

Around 200 protesters gathered Tuesday morning in Raleigh's Bicentennial Mall across Jones Street from the North Carolina General Assembly.

Led by faith and civil rights leaders, the protesters denounced the lame duck legislative session getting underway, a last-ditch opportunity for the outgoing Republican super-majority to flex its muscle.

This fall, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution requiring photo ID for in-person voting. The Legislature's Republican leadership scheduled this session before the mid-term elections, expecting to come back and draft enabling legislation for photo ID.

That rankled Democrats and other opponents of voter ID legislation because the elections also resulted in Democrats breaking the GOP veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, a realignment that will not take effect until January.

"We are here to resist and to protest the possible voter ID law that they are looking to pass," said Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, addressing the crowd. "A voter ID law that is undemocratic, unconstitutional, and immoral."

A 2013 state photo ID law, also passed by a GOP-controlled Legislature, was thrown out by a federal court for its discriminatory impact on African-American voters.

"Intentionally disenfranchising voters of color to ensure political gain for your own dwindling and obsolescent group is the height of fraud," said the Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP.

William J. Barber, II, leader of the national Poor People's Campaign and a recent recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, told the protesters that their demonstration was about more than just opposing Republican-backed voter ID legislation.

He claimed the politicians who support such policies also oppose expanding health care, labor rights and raising the minimum wage.

Barber also urged Democratic lawmakers not to work with Republicans on voter ID.

"Don't you compromise on our rights," he said. "Don't you get in there and say 'We can make the bill be better.' If they want to make this vote, let them have to do it only with extremist Republican votes."

A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued a statement citicizing the protesters.

"Voter ID is in the North Carolina Constitution," Spokesman Patrick Ryan said, "because the people of this state support it overwhelmingly, and Republicans will follow through on that mandate."

"It's a great irony," Ryan added, "that the liberal activist organization that planned today's protest is asking a judge to invalidate the votes for the amendment while at the same time accusing us of voter suppression."

The North Carolina NAACP sued to keep the voter ID amendment off the fall ballot but the state supreme court denied that request.

At Tuesday's rally, Reverend Barber vowed to continue the legal fight against voter ID in North Carolina.

"We will fight in the courts, we will fight in the streets, we will fight at the ballot box," he declared to a raucous crowd, "and, if necessary, we'll return this state to civil disobedience."

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