NC voting law on trial in Winston-Salem

Posted July 13, 2015

— Lawyers and witnesses focused on whether Republican North Carolina state lawmakers and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory illegally weakened minority voting strength, as a federal voting rights trial challenging a 2013 state law began Monday.

The trial in Winston-Salem stems from three federal lawsuits filed by the U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP and others over provisions that scaled back early voting and prevented the counting of Election Day ballots cast in an incorrect precinct.

Election law experts say the case could determine how far Southern states can change voting rules after the nation's highest court struck down a portion of the federal Voting Rights Act just weeks before the North Carolina law was passed.

Hundreds of people waiting in line for more than an hour Monday morning for a chance to sit in on the trial, but many were turned away once the courtroom reached capacity.

Here are highlights from the trial's first day and expected upcoming points of contention:



Attorneys for the U.S. government and state NAACP said they would prove state lawmakers deliberately suppressed voting rights for minority groups. The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP chapter, has repeatedly likened the elections overhaul trial to a confrontation in 1965 in Selma, Ala., between voter registration workers and local police who used violence to subdue them.

The plaintiffs believe the trial "will have a lasting and decisive impact on the voting rights of African Americans and Latinos in North Carolina, and an impact on the Voting Rights Act itself," said Penda Hair, a lawyer representing the NAACP. "That is why they say about this case: 'This is our Selma.'"

Tom Farr, a private attorney representing the state, said in court he was taken aback by the Selma connection given the challenged provisions are the law in a majority of the 50 states.

"What is the dastardly thing that North Carolina has done that has been equated to the events in Selma?" Farr asked. He pointed out that black turnout increased in the 2014 election – when some provisions were implemented – compared to four years earlier. "I think it's hard to say that's purposeful discrimination."

Before the trial opened, Jamie Cole, legal and public policy director for the state NAACP, said the intent of the law has been clear from the beginning.

"Lawmakers were presented with significant evidence that the measure would make it harder for African-American voters to participate in the electoral process, but passed it anyway," Cole said at a news conference.

Supporters of the law countered that it is simply a way to combat voter fraud.

"These are common-sense protections that will make it harder to cheat in our elections," said Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for the North Carolina Republican Party.

Lawyers for the state pointed out that other states have similar election laws, adding that North Carolina's rules give everyone has the same opportunity to vote.



Gwendolyn Farrington of Durham testified her vote didn't count last November when she went to the precinct site closest to her job. The 2013 law prohibited out-of-precinct ballots on Election Day from being counted. Farrington she had to pick up her sons that day after getting off work at 6 p.m. Polls close at 7:30 p.m. and she said she couldn't have made it to her home precinct in time.

"I was raised that voting was important," Farrington said. "You cannot get your voice heard unless you exercise your right to vote."

During a videotaped deposition by another woman whose out-of-precinct ballot didn't count, Farr suggested the woman had other transportation options to reach the correct precinct, including one from her church.

Barber testified late Monday afternoon, and outside the courthouse, he described the election law changes as the worst act of voter suppression he's ever seen.

"The subject is equality. The subject is democracy. The subject is the soul of this country," he said.



The trial also is expected to address whether the rights of black and Latino voters were abridged when lawmakers reduced the number of early voting days before Election Day and the primary from 17 to 10 and eliminated the ability to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day during the early voting period. Another challenged provision eliminated a program allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to "preregister" to vote so they would be automatically registered at 18.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder refused last year to delay the use of these provisions in last November's election as the trial neared.



The NAACP and other advocacy groups held a mass rally in downtown Winston-Salem on Monday evening, attracting hundreds of people.

"It's not a privilege for a few people to have," rally participant John Jordan said of voting. "It's for everyone, and everybody's voice is important."

"For so many years, North Carolina was the progressive state in the South, making a lot of progress, becoming free and democratic. Now, I just feel like we're sliding back so quickly," rally participant Wayde Marsh said.

The trial is expected to last up to four weeks. Schroeder isn't expected to rule right away. For now, he has set aside a legal fight over North Carolina's photo identification requirement to vote in person in 2016 because lawmakers last month eased the mandate. Schroeder's final ruling likely will be appealed and could reach the Supreme Court.


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  • Gen Lee Jul 15, 2015
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    eliminating voting sites doesn't mean they are suppressing the vote. politicians still gerrymander because they get their votes that way even though it is illegal. Politicians want votes, but they aren't going to try with the ones they know they will never get. but back to the point i made way earlier it is not that hard to find out where you are suppose to vote and have the proper paperwork/id to vote. you can go down to the dmv and register to vote. It is not hard. People just want something to complain about when there is nothing to complain about. if they get off their tails and do something then we wouldn't be having this conversation.

  • Carl Keehn Jul 15, 2015
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    According to the AP, emails from the Wautauga County Board of Election Supervisors reveal that Paul Foley on the State Board of Elections acted in collusion with the Wautauga county board to eliminate the Appalachian state voting site. That doesn't sound like wanting voters. That sounds like trying to suppress the vote of an undesired group. That action created an illegal superprecinct, serving over 9,000 registered voters and providing only 28 parking spaces.

  • Gen Lee Jul 15, 2015
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    They don't want fewer voters. Politicians want all the votes they can get. There is nothing stopping people from voting except their lazy tails. It is your responsibility to go vote, not mine not anyone else's. So stop whining about ways to keep people from cheating and stuffing the ballot.
    And spelling Christian out doesn't take that much space up. You can always continue your argument into two comments.

  • Gen Lee Jul 15, 2015
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    Many people wouldn't vote for him either.

  • Raleigh Rose Jul 14, 2015
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    Like I said-you can say whatever you want. You just aren't free from the consequences of what you say, but that doesn't mean you can't voice your opinion.
    As far as my use of Xtian, first off there is a 1000 character limit. Second, the use of X in Christian or Christmas come from the Greek letter X or Chi which is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ. It is an abbreviation for the word Christ, not an attempt to misspell or replace anything. The use of X in Christmas dates back to the 16th century. If you look at the Chi Rho, this symbol is often used to represent Christ. It is the symbol that looks like an X with a P on top of it.
    The voter id laws are a solution looking for a problem for the GOP. They want fewer voters and that is why this has been happening all over the country where the right has the majority. It's really underhanded of them.


  • Charlie Watkins Jul 14, 2015
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    I would like to see Rev. Barber challenge Sen. Burr for the US Senate. Rev. Barber is the one man in this state that could defeat Burr.

  • Kenny Dunn Jul 13, 2015
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    You have a very strange view of your rights under the constitution. Freedom of speech allows you to say anything you like and anyone who disagrees with you has exactly the same right to voice their opposing view. That is pretty much the definition of free speech. As such it is my constitutional right to refer to you as a bigot and you can refer to me as using some other term.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 13, 2015
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    The words "freedom of speech" have very specific meaning related to our constitution. I get what you're trying to say, but using that phrase will lead to confusion with those you're trying to communicate to.

    As I understand it, and I have seen reported in multiple places, Sweet Cakes by Melissa did refuse to bake the cake; it wasn't just about putting a message on the cake. Upon learning there would be two brides Aaron Klein refused service.

    Your business till must follow all applicable laws. Even ones you don't like.

  • Raleigh Rose Jul 13, 2015
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    The bakery in OR wasn't sued because they are Xtian, but because they broke a state law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in a place of public accommodation. Same deal with magistrates-they have to serve the WHOLE public. These types of laws make exceptions for entities like a church or private, religious school so the prediction that clergy will be sued over SSM is false. Unless someone is stopping you from attending the church or your choice, you have not lost your religious freedom. You can't use it to discriminate. You have also not lost your freedom of speech, evidenced by your statements here. You aren't free from the repercussions of that speech.
    As for the voter law is concerned, there is more than just IDs. The law was done to discourage minorities and the poor, who would typically vote Democrat from voting. People from the right have admitted it, and have always wanted less people to vote.

  • John Johnson Jul 13, 2015
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    . Yes I Watched, 2008 & 2012 & reported (On Deaf Ears) as Several Bragging People Who Voted Multiple Times and Were Given Ballots already Mark For Obama Each Time.. The Person in Charge, She, Was the One Handing them Out Already Marked. And Motioned these Multiple People Directly To Her...