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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

Commentary
Paul Foley

SBOE member Paul Foley with presidential candidate Donald Trump – Image: Twitter.com

The Winston-Salem Journal became the latest major newspaper this morning to call for Governor Pat McCrory to remove his appointee, Republican lawyer  Paul Foley, from the state Board of Elections. The editorial, which cited Foley’s troubling behavior surrounding the Board’s investigation of a sweepstakes company owner that was also a client of his law firm, came at almost the same time that Associated Press reported new and disturbing developments in the ongoing investigation of Foley related to the elimination of a voting site at Appalachian State University.

After summarizing his behavior in the sweepstake investigation (in which he repeatedly questioned Board of Elections staff and failed to disclose his obvious conflict of interest) the editorial concludes this way:

“Foley has shown he can’t be trusted to understand and fulfill his responsibilities. His continued presence on the board could hurt its credibility.  If he won’t realize that and step down, Gov. McCrory should remove him.”

The Journal editorial comes on the heels of one in yesterday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer that said this:

“The public relies on the State Board of Elections to oversee honest elections and fair enforcement of election laws. Foley can no longer fulfill those roles credibly. He should step down or the governor should ask for his resignation.”

Meanwhile, this is from this morning’s AP story on Foley’s involvement in the A.S.U. voting site matter:
“Paul Foley, a Republican member of the the North Carolina elections board from Winston-Salem, worked closely with local officials in their effort to eliminate a heavily Democratic voting site, a plan a judge ruled was intended to suppress voter turnout, according to hundreds of emails reviewed by The Associated Press.
The state Board of Elections is supposed to act as a neutral arbiter when policy disputes arise involving county elections boards. The emails show that Foley worked closely behind the scenes with GOP officials in Watauga County as they crafted a plan to eliminate the early voting site at Appalachian State University.”

Coming, as they have, at the very moment that Republican officials are trying to defend their relentless and transparent efforts to rig and suppress voting in a federal court trial in Winston-Salem, you’d think these latest revelations would prompt Governor McCrory to ax Foley ASAP. Based on his penchant for waffling and indecisive leadership in so many other controversies, however, it seems just as likely that the Guv will ignore the matter and head off to another ribbon cutting somewhere. Stay tuned.

Commentary

TVoting rightshe leaders of the North Carolina NAACP and Democracy North Carolina held a brief press conference outside Gov. McCrory’s office this morning to highlight their demand that the Governor explain the precipitous and troubling drop-off in voter registrations at state public assistance offices.

As was reported here and in several other places last week, a 1993 federal law mandates that state public assistance offices affirmatively reach out to clients with whom they interact to give them the opportunity to register to vote. Since the advent of the McCrory administration’s control of state Department of Health and Human Services offices, however, such registrations have dropped precipitously — from an average of more than 2,000 per month to an average of less than 700 per month.

Today the NAACP submitted a letter to the Governor on behalf the Forward Together Moral Movement asking two things:

1) That the Governor address the issue and explain what the heck has happened by this Wednesday, and

2)  That his office and that of DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos provide expedited responses to several demands for public records related to the issue — perhaps most importantly, any correspondence between DHHS headquarters and local public assistance offices related to the issue voter registration.

NAACP President Rev. William Barber explained during today’s event that the Governor’s response (or lack thereof) would dictate whether or not his organization would seek a federal Department of Justice investigation of the matter.

Let’s hope that, for a change, the McCrory administration treats the matter with the seriousness it deserves. As NAACP lawyer Al McSurely pointed out this morning, the rapid decline in voter registrations over the past two years has, by all indication, resulted in as many as 40,000 fewer lower-income people being registered to vote in North Carolina. This is obviously a huge issue that is especially troubling in light of the efforts of conservative lawmakers to advance the so-called “Monster Voting Law” that has erected several new roadblocks to voting in North Carolina.

Stay tuned.

News

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.

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News

VoteWake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan  has refused to dismiss a case challenging the state’s voter ID law, sending the case to trial in July instead.

Under the so-called monster voting law passed in 2013, voters will have to show one of seven forms of photo identification to cast a ballot starting in 2016.

“On behalf of our clients, we look forward to trying this case in July and demonstrating the disenfranchising effect of the photo ID requirement,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s George Eppsteiner, one of attorneys for the parties challenging the law.

Those parties include 78-year-old Alberta Currie, whose family picked cotton and tobacco on Robeson County fields and who has no birth certificate because she was born at home. She has voted consistently since she first became eligible to vote in 1956. She does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate.

Joining her in the lawsuit, Currie v. North Carolina — filed in August 2013 when three federal actions were likewise filed — are several other individuals as well as the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and the North Carolina A. Phillip Randolph Institute.

Together they allege that the photo ID requirement creates a new qualification to vote and discriminates against African-American voters, all in violation of the North Carolina Constitution.

At a hearing in late January, both the state and the challengers asked the court enter judgment in their favor based solely upon their respective court pleadings.

In his order filed on February 24, Morgan ruled instead that the challengers’ claims that the photo ID requirement constituted an impermissible qualification on the right to vote and also violated Equal Protection provisions of the state constitution could only be decided after a full presentation of evidence at trial.

Read the full decision here.