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.


API VoteAs ballots are cast all over the state today, it is important to remind voters and poll workers about Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act which allows voters to get language assistance at the polls. The relevant North Carolina statute states that any registered voter who has trouble reading is allowed to be assisted in the voting booth by any person of their choice, except a candidate for office.

Unfortunately, poll workers are often not trained to comply with this law. This lack of knowledge and training results in voters not being able to get assistance from a person of their choice and, in worst case scenarios, can result in a voter not casting their vote due to a lack of language assistance.

Many ethnic groups face these language challenges at the polls but a new report put out by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) puts a spotlight on the language problems faced by Asian Americans, since their vote could affect the outcome of the midterm election. According to the report, 32.65% of the Asian American population in North Carolina has limited English proficiency. A 2012 post-election survey of Asian Americans found that turnout among those who had difficulty speaking English was nine percent lower than those who are English proficient. Overall, in 2012, eight percent of Asian Americans who have difficulty speaking English cited language barriers as a reason for not voting. Read More

Credit: Governing magazine.

Credit: Governing magazine.

As the case challenging North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting plan languishes in state Supreme Court, two similar cases out of Alabama that may bear directly on the legality of our state maps are set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama and Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabamaparties are challenging the legality of “packing” minority voters into districts where they already are in political control, reducing their impact elsewhere.

As summarized by SCOTUSblog:

Both [cases] challenge decisions by a federal district court that upheld (by a split two-to-one vote) a new boundary map that kept the  same number of state senate and state house districts that previously had majorities of African-American voters, but added to those majorities in almost every district.  Sponsors of the plan insisted they were doing so to obey their obligations to protect minority voters’ political strength under federal voting rights law, but the challengers argued that this was an unconstitutional use of racial gerrymandering.

In both the Alabama cases and the case pending here (Dickson v. Rucho), state lawmakers have argued that the Voting Rights Act required them to redraw districts and pack African-American voters into districts — even though those voters, while still a minority of the voting age population in their previous districts, had been electing their candidates of choice.

The viability of that argument will be before the nation’s highest court in the fall, and yesterday — in a friend-of-the-court brief filed there — attorneys for the parties challenging the North Carolina maps urged the justices to reject redistricting on that basis as “an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.”

Here is an excerpt from that brief:

This Court reiterated in Bartlett v. Strickland the well-established principle that the “‘moral imperative of racial neutrality is the driving force of the Equal Protection Clause,’ and racial classifications are permitted only ‘as a last resort.’” The Court further cautioned that “[o]ur holding also should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command, for that, too, could pose constitutional concerns.”

The North Carolina legislature, like the Alabama legislature, misapplied these principles in the 2011 redistricting by imposing a racial proportionality target for the number of majority-black districts and requiring every district to meet a specific black population percentage target. As in Alabama, the North Carolina General Assembly believed that these fixed racial targets were required by the Voting Rights Act.

Ignoring decades of progress in increasing opportunities for black voters to participate in the political process, in 2011 the General Assembly created more majority-black districts than ever before, thereby entrenching racial stereotypes and tearing apart effective cross-racial coalitions that had evolved over time. The General Assembly’s use of racial targets in redistricting was justified only by the mistaken belief that they were required by federal law. In addition to North Carolina and Alabama, there is only one other redistricting case, currently pending in Virginia, in which it is alleged that the Legislature admittedly and explicitly used racial targets in drawing districts.

Thus, what is needed here is not a revision of voting rights jurisprudence; nor will reversal of the trial court result in significant upheaval of redistricting maps throughout jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Rather, the misinterpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s requirements resulting in the unfair imposition of racial targets in redistricting in a few states is an unconstitutional use of race that must be corrected.

Read the full brief here.







EARLY VOTINGThe League of Women Voters and other groups and individuals challenging the state’s new voting law in federal court today appealed a lower court ruling rendering the law effective for the November elections.

They’ll ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite the matter with a view towards a quick ruling.

“We will be seeking expedited review to get a ruling that can be implemented well in advance of the elections,” said the ACLU’s Chris Brook, one of the attorneys in the case.

The league joins the NC-NAACP, which filed its notice of appeal yesterday, and students who joined the cases who appealed earlier in the week.

Together they’re appealing U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s August 8 ruling allowing voting changes to take effect in November.

For North Carolina voters, that means that there would be no same-day registration, early voting days would be reduced from 17 to 10, and votes cast out-of-precinct would not be counted.

“If one person’s right to vote is denied or abridged this election, this democracy suffers,” NC NAACP president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II said yesterday in a statement. “While restoring the rights of North Carolina voters and renewing the integrity of democracy in our state will require a long legal fight, we must start now by doing everything we can to block this law for the November election.”