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


Voter-ID-signThe parties challenging the voter ID provisions of the state’s 2013 election law changes in state court have asked the judge to put the case on hold until after the 2016 presidential primary, saying that only then will the merits of the recently adopted “reasonable impediment” process for voters lacking a photo ID be established.

The request comes in response to the state’s motion to dismiss the case in light of those new provisions which they say moot the case.

Under the new law, a person showing up at the polls without an acceptable form of photo ID could sign a sworn statement indicating the reasons for lacking such an ID and then cast a provisional ballot.

In papers filed with the court last week, the challengers cite the state’s poor implementation of the voter ID law during the November 2014 election and the resulting confusion among voters — many of whom ultimately did not have their votes counted — and argue that the state has shown little interest in improving that implementation going forward.

No updates have yet been made to the State Board of Elections showing the changes, no material detailing the changes have been published and no news of training for official and poll workers has been announced.

Moreover, they say, whether the new changes will actually go into effect is subject to question.

Rep. Michael Speciale, for example, told the Beaufort Observer in late June that he’d be introducing a bill to repeal the “reasonable impediment” provisions.

“You may rest assured that I fully support requiring a photo ID and once this DMV mess is straightened out I will, if no one else does, introduce a bill to scrap the ‘impediment’ exception,” Speciale said, referring to allegations that DMV was charging voters for the “free” voter ID.

In addition to asking for a stay of the state case, the groups and individuals opposing the law are asking the court to allow them to amend their complaint to assert an “as applied” constitutional claim, challenging the state’s implementation of and public education about the new voter ID law.


Commentary, News

Health numbers1. Senate pushes to eliminate health retirement benefits for North Carolina’s teachers and state retirees

Buried deep in the Senate budget proposal that lawmakers passed last week is a provision that would eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016.

“This puts the state at a major disadvantage in the recruitment and retention of state employees, teachers, and university faculty compared to other states,” said Chuck Stone, director of operations for the State Employees Association of NC (SEANC), of the Senate’s push to jettison the health retirement benefit.

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Berger-Moore-McCrory2. The missing sense of urgency in Raleigh

It promises to be a long hot summer in the Legislative Building in Raleigh as House and Senate leaders try to come up with a final budget agreement for the next two years with hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of policy issues in dispute between the two chambers’ spending plans.

A report prepared by staff members that lists the differences between the House and Senate budget runs 372 pages long and does not include many of the major policy sticking points like Medicaid reform and changing the way local sales tax revenues are distributed.

Nobody seems eager to start tackling the daunting process. Speaker Tim Moore says the House is prepared to stay in Raleigh and Senate leaders vow not to adjourn until Medicaid reform is finished.

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Fair-housing3. Senate budget also took aim at anti-discrimination law

North Carolina might scale back its efforts to fight unlawful discrimination, if a Senate budget provision to repeal the state’s fair housing act is adopted as law.
The provision, which would repeal the State Fair Housing Act and shut down the state office that investigates discrimination complaints, was buried deep in the 500-plus budget (pages 390-391) that was made public and quickly passed the chamber last week.

The elimination of the state anti-discrimination measures got no attention during debates when the budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate last Thursday.

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Voter ID4. Lesson learned on Voter ID

Last week’s abrupt turnabout in the General Assembly on Voter ID surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as attorneys in the lawsuits set for trial this summer.

The changes, which include provisions allowing voters lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot once they’ve signed a sworn statement indicating that they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting such an ID, surfaced at the last minute as part of a joint House and Senate compromise to House Bill 836.

The House, while supporting the changes as improvements on an otherwise bad law, decried the lack of process and wondered aloud what happened to bring about such a quick reversal.

“Why now,” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux. “This could have been done two years ago.”

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Gun tragedy5. Hints of hope amongst the carnage: Average North Carolinians are pushing back against the gun fundamentalists…and winning

It’s hard to feel very optimistic about much of anything in the aftermath of last week’s horrific tragedy/terrorist act in South Carolina. The idea that a hate-filled sociopath could and would enter a sanctuary of peace and then execute nine innocent, welcoming people with whom he had been purporting to engage in Bible study minutes before is so shocking and disturbing that it almost renders rational responses impossible….

And yet, unspeakably horrific as the murders were, there are growing signs that maybe, just maybe, the cumulative impact of this nation’s ever-lengthening list of mass murders and racist hate crimes is finally starting to move public opinion and policy in a positive direction.

[Continue Reading…]

Voter IDA new analysis of voter registration data shows that under the McCrory administration, North Carolina may be systematically failing to provide state residents with the opportunity to register to vote when they apply for public assistance — such as food stamps or welfare — in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

Commonly called the “Motor Voter Law,” the Act requires public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices to provide voter registration services whenever someone applies for benefits, renews or recertifies benefits, or changes an address with the agency, unless the person declines these services in writing.

Affected programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (“WIC”), the Medicaid program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”).

According to Democracy NC, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since McCrory took office. They fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the past two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The organization also reports that last fall it and other voting-rights groups checked out 19 public assistance agencies across the state  and found after interviews that up to 75 percent of the clients at the agencies did not see a registration question on agency forms and were not asked whether they would like to register to vote, as required by federal law.

Also, according to this piece in the The Daily Kos:

From 1995 through 2012, the North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBOE) published on its web site annual summaries (in the form of Excel spreadsheets) of its NVRA compliance data. But, beginning in 2013 (when McCrory took office), that practice appears to have come to a halt, and no annual summaries are available there for McCrory’s term (2013-2014).

Here’s a graph from that article showing the apparent decline:

(Source: DocDawg for Daily Kos)

(Source: DocDawg for Daily Kos)

Democracy NC, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute sent a notice letter today to the State Board of Elections  and the Department of Health and Human Services, advising both of their findings and giving the state 90 days to comply with the law or face yet another voting rights lawsuit.

North Carolina is already in the throes voting rights battles in the courts. Three federal lawsuits — including one brought by the Justice Department — and another action in state court, all concerning the state’s so called “Monster Voting Law,” are now pending.

The state is also fighting a challenge to its 2011 voter redistricting plan, a case that is now back in state Supreme Court after being remanded by the U.S. Supreme Court.



In papers filed with the state Supreme Court yesterday, lawmakers told the justices there was no reason to expedite proceedings in the North Carolina redistricting case, Dickson v. Rucho, sent back here last week by the U.S. Supreme Court — at least not within the time frame that challengers to the state’s redistricting plan want.

That order by the nation’s highest court came on the heels of its earlier decision in a similar case out of Alabama, in which the justices held that the Voting Rights Act required lawmakers to assess whether minorities had the ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice and to draw voting lines in order to facilitate that goal — not, as Alabama had done, to achieve specific numerical minority percentages.

North Carolina lawmakers operated under the same mistaken premise when designing the state’s 2011 plan, according to challengers.

Here’s Eddie Speas, one of the attorneys representing those challengers:

One of the things we think is important in the Alabama case is that the Alabama legislature engaged in a mechanical process when drawing districts that is inconsistent with the sensitive, strict scrutiny and narrow tailoring that the Supreme Court said has to happen in these redistricting plans.

And North Carolina lawmakers were guilty of this sin twice: First they adopted the rule that they would draw majority – minority districts in numbers proportional to the state’s black population. And then they drew each of those districts to have at least 50 percent total black voting age population.

Just after the Supreme Court order sending the case back, plan challengers asked the state’s high court to expedite the case — hoping to get a final resolution and any necessary redistricting changes in place in time for elections in 2016.

Lawmakers opposed that request yesterday, arguing that they needed time to fully brief the arguments they managed already to outline for the court and citing, ironically, scheduling conflicts they had with trial dates in the federal voter suppression cases.

(Several of the attorneys for the plan’s challengers are also involved in the federal cases.)

It’s been rare in recent history for the state Supreme Court to hear cases during the summer months.

However, with Chief Justice Mark Martin at the helm, the court has begun taking certain cases directly (bypassing the usual appeal process) and setting quick argument dates.

In October 2014, the court took up five cases for expedited review, including the challenge to the private school voucher program.

The court has also expedited argument in the appeal of the Governor’s lawsuit against the legislative leaders concerning commission appointments, setting that down for June 30.

To read the redistricting plan challengers’ request for expedited review, click here.

To read the lawmakers’ opposition, click here.