In 2013, North Carolina Republicans passed one of the most draconian voter ID laws in the country to prevent minorities from exercising their right to participate in the democratic process.
Critics warned that this reminded them of when states in the South enacted literacy tests to keep black people from voting during the Jim Crow era.
Well, it looks like such tests are returning.
When Rudy Ravindra and his wife attempted to vote in the recent North Carolina primary, the Asian-American couple was actually forced to take a spelling test by poll workers who very clearly wanted a reason to prevent them from voting.
Ravindra described the horrific treatment in an op-ed for the Raleigh News & Observer starting from the moment he handed his driver’s license to the poll worker referred to as “HW.”
“I gave my driver’s license to a poll worker, HW,” Ravindra wrote.
“He kept it face down and ordered me to spell my name. Although I go by Rudy, my legal name is Rudravajhala. In order to save time, I requested HW look at my ID. He barked, ‘You gotta spell it!’ So I took a deep breath and began. ‘R-U-D-‘ He repeated after me and typed each letter. When he typed a B instead of a D, I had to correct him, “It’s not B; it’s D for dog.”
This farce went on a for a while, and each time he made a mistake, I patiently corrected. Meanwhile, voters in adjacent lines came and went briskly. I heaved a sigh of relief when HW finally entered my mouthful of a name into his computer and peered at the monitor. And then I had to pronounce it, and when he tried, he couldn’t get it right.
He asked, “Your address?”
After repeating his address to the poll worker, Ravindra was declared “the perfect voter” and allowed to cast his ballot.
Poll workers are not allowed to test voters, but this poll worker in North Carolina seemed to think that his state had returned to the days of Jim Crow and that he was entitled to demand Ravindra jump through illegal hoops to exercise his right to vote.
When Ravindra brought his wife to cast her ballot later on, a different poll worker conducted the exact same test even though white voters were able to come and go as they pleased without having to deal with such harassment.
“Our two Caucasian friends who live in different areas of town voted at different polling places,” Ravindra reported. “In contrast to our humiliating experience, however, they did not have to pass the spelling test and after a cursory glance at their IDs were allowed to vote.”
With that knowledge, Ravidra and his wife felt discriminated against, especially since the rise of Donald Trump has caused overwhelming suspicion and hatred of people with foreign-sounding names.
“My wife and I couldn’t help but feel that we were singled out. The poll workers could have simply looked at our IDs and saved a lot of time. That in a sea of white faces at both polling stations my wife and I were the only brown-skinned individuals also led us to suspect that we were victims of racial prejudice. In these days of Trumpism and shameless xenophobia and other assorted phobias, we can’t be blamed if we are paranoid.”
Ravindra contacted the State Board of Elections whose director apologized for what the couple went through and confirmed that poll workers are only supposed to look at the ID. They are NOT supposed to force people of color to pass spelling tests in order to vote.
“In the final analysis,” Ravindra concluded, “this is a bad law and subject to over-interpretation by overzealous, and possibly rogue, officials.”
Clearly, Jim Crow is still alive and well in some red states and the has to be particularly embarrassing to North Carolina citizens who not too long ago lived in a thriving blue state on the cusp of achieving true progress far from its days as a slave state in the Confederacy.
By Stephen D. Foster, Jr. / 03.21.2016