Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

The battle over sweeping election law changes adopted in North Carolina in 2013 opened on two fronts yesterday.

In a packed courtroom inside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem, attorneys for both the challengers and the state laid out the case they planned to present to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder over the next several weeks.

State lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they stripped away same day registration, cut early voting days and eliminated the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots — provisions used widely by minority voters — Penda D. Hair, an attorney for the North Carolina NAACP, said in her opening statement.

“They were voter suppressors in search of a pretext,” she told the judge.

The state has argued throughout the case that the 2013 changes were neutral on their face, burdening all voters – not just African-American or Latino voters – and that the state’s election laws now resembled those in other states, where same day registration and early voting don’t exist.

But Hair dismissed that argument, saying that other states do not have the same racially-charged history of voter suppression as does North Carolina.

“Poll taxes were neutral on their face,” Hair said. “Literacy tests were neutral on their face. 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 Americans or Latinos are not allowed to vote.”

Outside, the trial over the voting changes in the court of public opinion also waged on.

Speakers from the state NAACP held an early morning press conference while their supporters and others from voting rights advocacy groups chanted what’s become the mantra for the Moral Monday movement: “Forward together! Not one step back.”

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

In the opposite corner behind a podium bearing the NCGOP logo, state Republican Party spokesman Ricky Diaz told the media that the election law changes were simply common sense provisions meant to ensure the integrity of the vote.

The parties have identified nearly 100 voters, experts and state officials as possible witnesses in the case, and once opening arguments ended, the challengers began calling them to the stand.

Durham resident Gwendolyn Farrington told the court 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.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the state NAACP, also took the stand yesterday afternoon in advance of a planned Moral Monday voting rights march held at 5 p.m. in Winston-Salem.

“In North Carolina, a literacy test is still on the books,” Barber said. “The Voting Rights Act overruled it, but it remains there as a symbol.”

“In this country we should be doing everything humanly possible to ensure all people can vote,” he added.

Trial will continue day-to-day at the federal courthouse at 251 N. Main Street, Winston-Salem, and is expected to last at least two weeks.   Read here for more on what to expect during the proceedings.


Here’s the latest statement from advocates in response to this morning’s story about the remarkable crash in voter registrations at North Carolina public assistance offices since the beginning of the McCrory administration:



(Raleigh, NC) – Citing clear evidence that the state of North Carolina is failing its obligation to provide low-income residents with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies, today Democracy North Carolina, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (“APRI”) sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”), as well as Dr. Aldona Wos, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”).

According to the letter, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since Gov. Pat McCrory took office. The number of applications originating from such agencies fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the last two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The notice letter—sent on behalf of the voting rights groups by attorneys from D?mos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—gives the state 90 days to come into compliance with the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) or face litigation.

Read More

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.


Voting rightsThere was a good deal of anecdotal evidence during the November election indicating that something was amiss in a lot voting places around the state. Now, sadly, there is damning confirmation in a new report from the watchdogs at Democracy North Carolina. This is from the report summary:

“New voting restrictions and unprepared poll workers kept as many as 50,000 North Carolinians from voting in this fall’s general election, according to an analysis by the elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina.

Although most voters reported that casting a ballot was easy and election officials generally responded quickly to fix a broken machine, there is mounting evidence that a shorter early voting period, confusion caused by new election rules, and strong turnout pushed many Election Day polling sites to the breaking point.

Read More


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