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VoteThe state court challenge to the 2013 voter ID provisions of the monster voting law is set for a hearing this morning at the Wake County Courthouse on the state’s request to dismiss the case.

That request comes on the heels of the recent amendment to the law providing that voters lacking an acceptable photo ID can still cast a ballot after signing an affidavit that states they had a reasonable impediment to obtaining one.

The state contends the amendment moots the claims that the voter ID provisions are unconstitutional.

The law’s challengers argue though that even with the amendment the right to vote is still burdened, in part because of uncertainty over how election officials statewide will implement the reasonable impediment provision — particularly in light of a possible March 2016 election.  They point to a lack of any plan to educate poll workers and other election officials on how the amendment will work and also to lawmaker statements indicating an intent to repeal the reasonable impediment provision as soon as possible. They are asking the the court to allow them to amend their complaint to challenge the amendment.

Today’s hearing will proceed even as the parties in the pending federal cases challenging the 2013 law have indicated they may be able to reach a settlement of the voter ID claims, depending upon an agreement of conditions needed by challengers to ensure voter protection.

A report to U.S. Judge Thomas B. Schroeder on the status of those negotiations is expected by September 18, 2015.

(Correction:  An earlier version of this post stated that plaintiffs in the federal cases would report to Judge Schroeder on the status of settlement negotiations over the voter ID claims early this week. That has been corrected to reflect the correct date for such a report — September 18, 2015.)

Commentary

Columnist Myron B. Pitts of the Fayetteville Observer has an excellent, if sobering, essay this morning about the North Carolina General Assembly. It’s entitled “State’s decisions, from bad to abysmal” and it attempts to rank the worst decisions made by North Carolina lawmakers over the past half decade. Admittedly, Pitts has carved out a daunting task for himself, but see if you agree with his list, which starts with the awful 2013 tax changes and runs through the death-promoting decision to deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people.

NOTE: As the General Assembly is still in session, the list may well have to be updated in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and feel free to offer your additions.

Click here to read Pitts’ list.

News
(Source: whitehouse.gov)

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

As the Voting Rights Act turns 50 and in the face of renewed efforts across the country to restrict voting, President Barack Obama called on Congress today to restore the Act to its fullest, saying that we need “to ensure every American has equal access to the polls.”

The President recalled the incident on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965 that brought into full focus for many Americans just what was at stake and how strongly those being denied the right to vote were willing to fight:

And on one afternoon, two visions of America met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Those nonviolent marchers, representing the idea that all men and women are created equal and deserved to be treated as such, stared into the faces of those who represented a South that stood for the racial segregation and oppression of Jim Crow.

Roughly 600 people stood on the right side of history that day—armed only with their faith, and the conviction that we could be better. They were willing to sacrifice their own bodies in order to help bring America closer to its ideals of equality and justice for all.

Men and women were bloodied on that bridge. Bones were broken on that bridge. And because of the sacrifices made there, their vision—of a just America, a more fair America, a more equal America—ultimately triumphed. We made ourselves a more perfect union.

And he compared the obstacles black voters faced when trying to vote 50 years ago with new and at times insidious obstacles being thrown up now and even signed into law — as in North Carolina:

Fifty years ago, registering to vote across much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. And while the Voting Rights Act broke down many of the formal and more ridiculous barriers to voting, today—in 2015—there are still too many barriers to the vote, and too many people trying to erect new barriers to the vote. They’re even written into the code of law in some parts of our country—provisions specifically designed to make it harder for some people to vote.

Laws that roll back early voting. Laws with restrictive photo ID requirements. Laws that lead to improper purges of voter rolls.

Read the full text of the President’s remarks here at Medium, and more on the anniversary here.

News

voteA unanimous panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Texas’ voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law had a discriminatory impact on minorities.

Election law expert Rick Hasen, who has analysis in progress here, calls the ruling on Section 2 grounds a ‘big win” for plaintiffs.

Says Hasen:

The 5th Circuit adopted the two part “vote denial” test for Section 2 claims used by the 4th and 6th circuits (which is probably the standard that the trial court in the North Carolina voter id case will apply).  Applying the test, the 5th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding of a Section 2 violation. It upheld the finding that the law will have a discriminatory impact on minority voters—that is, minority voters are disproportionately likely to lack one of the types of ID which are allowed under Texas law. Then, [the court] found enough evidence to sustain a finding that [the law] “produces a discriminatory result that is actionable because [it] . . . interact[s] with social and historical conditions in Texas to cause an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by African-Americans and Hispanic voters.” Particularly interesting in this analysis is the question whether Texas’s explanations for why it needed its law (antifraud, voter confidence) were tenuous. The trial court found that they were because the evidence did not support the need for voter id for either of these purposes, and this factor worked in favor of finding of a Section 2 violation.

Read the full decision here.

News

Voter IDAttorneys and parties in the voting rights trial return to federal court in Winston-Salem this morning to continue presenting testimony and other evidence to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder.

During week one of what’s expected to be a multi-week trial, attorneys for the parties challenging the sweeping voting restrictions adopted in 2013 unfolded their case with personal stories from voters who struggled to vote as a result, along with testimony from experts about the intent and the impact of the election law changes.

Attorneys for the state in turn sought to poke holes in that testimony, questioning the efforts voters took to cast their ballots and probing the analyses undertaken by the academics.

Here’s a quick look at some of what Judge Schroeder heard last week.

A number of voters testified about difficulties they had in casting a ballot that counted.

Durham resident Gwendolyn Farrington testified on Monday that she tried to vote near her 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. job, since she couldn’t get to her own precinct, but was told that she had to cast a provisional ballot — which she later learned would not be counted. The 2013 voting changes prohibited the counting of provisional ballots cast in the right county but the wrong precinct.

Terrilyn Cunningham, a minister in Concord, had a similar experience on election day. When she went to vote early before work, she learned that she was in the wrong precinct, but was told she could cast a provisional ballot. Like Farrington, she later learned that her vote wouldn’t count.  Read More