Last week, a North Carolina federal court heard arguments in preliminary injunction hearing that could determine the future of the Voting Rights Act. Testifying for the plaintiff at the hearing, 93-year-old Rosanell Eaton would be many of the previously eligible North Carolina voters newly disenfranchised by the onerous voter ID law known as H.B. 589. The Department of Justice is requesting that a federal judge delay implementation of the law until a trial set for 2015.
On Thursday, Eaton testified before U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, recounting her first voting experience in the Jim Crow South. As a 19-year-old, Eaton was required to pass a literacy test in order to vote in a 1940 election, and she was one of the few Blacks in the South to pass. During her literacy test, Eaton was forced to recite the Preamble to the United States Constitution in order to win the right to vote. Literacy tests and other voter suppression tactics have since been ruled unconstitutional.
The law ends same day voter registration and cuts down the days of early voting by a week. Sadly, the law also ends a popular program that encouraged high school students to register to vote on their 18th birthdays. It deems student IDs and public employee IDs that a large number of North Carolinians had used successfully in the past to be unacceptable proof of identity, requiring voters to use government issued IDs instead.
According to analysis done by the North Carolina State Board of Elections, 318,643 out of 6.4 million voters don’t appear to have a driver’s license or identity card from the NC Division of Motor Vehicles. African Americans are a disproportionate share of this group. They’re 23% of all registered voters but 34% of those without a NC photo ID. The oppressive law would exclude poorer North Carolinians who are less involved in the political process. And a refusal of the state under the new law to accept a backup form of ID may indicate that the motivation for the law is partisan, and not one with the purpose of preventing the ever rare case of voter fraud.
Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and leader of the Forward Together movement, said after last week’s hearings, “While our legal team did a magnificent job presenting the historical, statistical and human dimensions of North Carolina’s voter suppression law, we are not in the business of predicting what the Courts will do. The preliminary injunction hearing is just that; preliminary. The main event will be next summer when the Court decides whether to permanently remove what we believe is an unconstitutional abridgment of our blood-stained right to vote.”
What’s happening in North Carolina is simply the first predictable response to the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. After that decision, the proposed law the North Carolina legislature introduced increased in size from 12 pages to 57 pages, with new provisions essentially targeting every aspect of the voting process. After only three days of debate, the North Carolina legislature passed the law on July 25 of last year.
Democratic State Rep. Rick Glazier testified in this week’s hearing, the legislative process that led to the passage of H.B. 589 was “truncated,” “non-transparent,” and “a textbook example of how not to govern.” And for the first time in recent North Carolina legislative history, every member of the minority party asked to speak against the bill. The Advancement Project Senior Attorney Denise Lieberman said of the Republicans, “They made a calculated and racially motivated decision to pass a law that stands to keep specific groups of voters from the polls.”
The defendants in the case did not dispute the claim that H.B. 589 disproportionately impacts African American and Latino voters. Black and Latino voters are more likely to vote early and they are more likely to not have a government issued ID. The plaintiffs, with the strength of testimony like that of Rosanell Eaton, made the case for why the onerous law should be blocked for the upcoming midterm November elections.
“The North Carolina NAACP legal team will continue to present indisputable evidence that North Carolina’s voting law has a disparate impact on voters of color, and will abridge the right to vote for African Americans, seniors, and students across the state,” said Barber. “In addition to fighting this law in the courts, we will continue organizing and mobilizing, moving forward together, not one step back.”
Justice Schroeder is expected to issue a ruling on the preliminary injunction next month.