At age 21, No. Carolina native Rosanell Eaton was one of the first black women to vote in the 1940s. Reciting the preamble of the U.S. Constitution three separate times, Eaton overcame the obstacles of the literacy test and years of discrimination to cast her ballot.
At 92 years old, Eaton is again fighting for her right to vote in the face of what many are calling the nation’s most restrictive voting law. Signed Aug. 12 by No. Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, the new voter ID law requires voters to present one of a stringent list of government-issued IDs at the polls, beginning in the 2016 elections.
The “Voter Information Verification Act” shortens early voting periods by a week, discontinues same-day registration and terminates a preregistration program widely utilized by high school students to register before they turn 18. “Straight ticket” voting—voting for all candidates under one party—is no longer an option under this law.
Eaton is now the leading plaintiff in a NAACP lawsuit against No. Carolina, filed the same day the voter ID law was signed. It claims that the law’s provisions are unconstitutional, violate the Voting Rights Act and discriminate against minorities.
Despite voting regularly for more than 70 years, Eaton may not be eligible for a voter ID card under the new restrictions. The name that appears on her birth certificate does not match the name on her driver’s license or her voter registration card—a discrepancy that would take a substantial amount of time and money to resolve. As a regular participant in early voting, Eaton will also suffer because of the reduced early-voting periods mandated by the new law.
Eaton joined protesters against the new legislation the day after it was signed, electrifying the crowd with an impassioned address:
Here I am at 92 years old doing the same battle. I have registered over 4,000 citizens in the state, and at it again, alongside Republicans’ efforts to eliminate and cut early voting … We need more, not less, public access to the ballot … I am fed up and fired up.
And she isn’t the only one fed up with North Carolina and its promotion of such a regressive law. State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D) is resigning from her post in the Senate to protest the voter ID law. Having served nine terms, Kinnaird cited her frustration with what she found to be a “divisive and immoral agenda” in the Republican majority.
Kinnaird notes that her decision to resign was influenced by the feeling that her time could be better spent working to get other Democrats elected in the state. She also plans to work with North Carolina residents on registering to vote, and getting photo IDs to those who do not already have one. As Kinnaird told the News & Observer in an interview:
What I want to do is try to remedy this radical agenda and work aggressively against this voter suppression. I feel that is a serious step over the line. I want to make sure we undo that.