Trial Over Voting Law Pits DOJ, NAACP Against No. Carolina

By Emily Richards | July 15, 2015 | 11:41am EDT
(AP photo)

( – The results of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the North Carolina NAACP and the League of Women Voters against the State of North Carolina will determine whether the state’s 2013 voting law discriminates against minorities.

The trial began Monday in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem. It is expected to last two to three weeks.

The lawsuit, which was filed soon after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law two years ago, claims that "over time, the State of North Carolina has employed a variety of devices to restrict minority voters’ access to the franchise, up to and including the recent enactment of HB 589."

It claims that the changes made to North Carolina’s voting system - such as shortening early voting from 17 days to 10, banning out-of-precinct voting, and ending same-day voter registration - were intended to discriminate against minority voters in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Last month, state lawmakers eased the mandate that required a photo I.D. to vote in North Carolina in 2016. Because of the recent change, the federal judge hearing the case decided to set aside that part of the law during the trial.

The law's provisions were followed in last November’s mid-term election after proponents argued that they did not affect minority voting rights and a judge refused to delay them. 

However, opponents of the law claim that its main intent is to disenfranchise minority voters.

“The law teaches it is the impact that matters — an impact that is linked to social and historical conditions — not whether a law explicitly says African-American or Latinos are not allowed to vote,” Penda Hair, a lawyer representing the North Carolina NAACP, said in her opening statement on Monday.

“Selma for us is not nearly a movie, we are remembering Selma because this is our Selma,” NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber said.

“We have to fight today to hold on to what they won in Selma 50 years ago,” he told 3,500 protesters who attended a march sponsored by his group.

But attorneys for the state pointed to the fact that minority voting actually increased after the law was implemented.

“Notwithstanding the opinions of plaintiffs’ experts, African American participation in early voting and Election Day voting during the 2014 elections increased as compared to both the 2010 Primary and General Election,” the state’s pre-trial brief states.

“North Carolina remains one of the more generous States for voters who wish to engage in early voting. None of these practices constitute severe burdens and are therefore constitutional.”

The law was passed after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision eliminated a provision in the Voting Rights Act requiring North Carolina and other states to obtain federal approval for changes to their voting rules that affect minorities,

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