A proposed Republican led legislation would reduce the early voting periods that many Edgecombe County residents have became accustomed to using.
The bills would reduce the 2 1/2-week long early voting before primary and general elections by one week and halt all same-day voter registration during those periods. The House bill would also eliminate Sunday voting, end straight-party balloting and make all judicial races partisan.
"It's an attack on minority voters," said the Rev. Roosevelt Higgs, an Edgecombe County community activist. "The minority cannot afford for this to serve as a deterrent to participate in the political process. We have to close ranks and educate our community to do good inspite of and make the best for what could turn out to be a bad situation."
One-stop voting is a process allowing registered voters to vote early while also allowing non-registered citizens the opportunity register and vote at the same time. Under the old law, citizens were required to register 25 days before an election.
Since its inception in 2007, one-stop voting has increased turnout all across the state. The law gives citizens the opportunity to vote early, rather than having to wait until election day.
Edgecombe County has 38,252 voters — 28,578 Democrats, 5,947 Republicans and 3,729 under other affiliations.
According to records from the Edgecombe County Board of Election, 29,000 voters who participated in the 2012 presidential election used early voting. Despite the early voters, lines at the election sites remained busy throughout election day.
In North Carolina, more than 250,000 people used the process during the 2012 election — disproportionately by young people, blacks and Democrats, said Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina.
Civil rights advocates and clergy said Friday that Republican legislative leaders are intent on denying voting rights to the poor and minorities through legislation to scale back early voting and other efforts to require photo identification to cast ballots.
Speakers representing several groups — led by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — attended a news conference to condemn bills filed last week by GOP legislators to limit early voting.
Referencing Easter in his comments, state NAACP President the Rev. William Barber said Republican lawmakers in charge of the General Assembly are seeking to manipulate election laws for their own partisan gain and at the loss of groups historically discouraged from voting.
“The legislature is trying to crucify voting rights in this state,” Barber said at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, adding that his allies will sue if such measures become law. “We believe that they have overreached constitutionally, and we will test in the court everything that they do.”
House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, the House bill’s primary sponsor, told WRAL-TV the legislation would “put some balance into the election process” and said he opposed Sunday voting because “some things you just shouldn’t do on Sundays.”
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, the bill's primary sponsor in the Senate, said the measure isn’t meant to be partisan and that all voters will still have equal access to the polls.
The House agreed in 2011 to reduce the number of days in the early voting period, but the bill didn’t pass the Senate.
Legislative leaders have sounded more interested so far this year in passing a law requiring photo identification to vote. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory supports stronger voter ID requirements. Barber and his allies also are opposed to new photo ID requirements. House Republicans want to pass such a measure in April.
"Once the crusaders realize we are still engaged, they too will be willing because the results of the election will be the same," Higgs said. "We are not going back to where we were. As with all storms, this too will pass."
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)