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Vol. 80/No. 34      September 12, 2016

(front page)

N. Carolina officials attack voting rights despite federal court ruling

North Carolina has been a crucial battleground in the fight to defend voting rights for African-Americans on the heels of the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gutted key components of the Voting Rights Act. The act was a historic conquest of the mass struggle for Black rights in the 1950s and ’60s that smashed Jim Crow segregation

Following the 2013 ruling, North Carolina’s government adopted harsh new restrictions on the right to vote. Protests by the NAACP, unions and other groups as well as legal challenges followed.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals July 29 struck down as unconstitutional the state’s 2013 voting law, one of the strictest in the nation, saying it violates the right to equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its provisions “target African-Americans.” Government officials are fighting to undermine the decision.

The new state law imposed a strict photo ID requirement to vote, eliminated same-day voter registration, shortened the state’s early voting period from 17 to 10 days, cut Sunday voting days, prohibited extending voting hours, prevented your vote from being counted if you went to the wrong precinct, and allowed any voter to challenge ballots of other voters.

The law’s restrictions are aimed at “impeding rights,” Donald Matthews, president of the NAACP in Randolph County, North Carolina, told the Militant by phone Aug. 26. “People of color given the opportunity will vote in greater numbers on Sunday than other days, and they also tend to vote early.”

On Aug. 15 the state of North Carolina filed an emergency appeal asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the circuit court’s ruling. It argued that making these “eleventh-hour alterations” to the rules officials have been implementing would “put state and local election officials in an exceedingly difficult position” and could create “voter confusion.”

At the same time North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse sent a memo to the majority-Republican county election boards urging them to continue limiting voting access. Among his plans: eliminate Sunday voting. “There is no requirement to be open on the weekends except for the last Saturday (until noon),” his memo stated. “Six days of voting in one week is enough.” The memo also calls for keeping just one site “at the county board of elections office” open for 17 days, instead of implementing the federal court-mandated seven-day extension to all voting locations, and removal of college campus polling sites.

County officials seek ways to maintain restrictions

County election officials have responded with zeal, plowing ahead with new schemes to keep in place the very same limitations the court overturned that deny African-Americans the right to vote.

In 2012, “more than 2.5 million voted early” in North Carolina, writes Ari Berman in Give Us the Ballot, “nearly 100,000 used same-day registration” and “300,000 registered voters didn’t have government-issued IDs.”

“The Supreme Court ruling and ensuing North Carolina law has affected people deeply and across the board,” said the NAACP’s Matthews. Among those who contacted the NAACP was a woman “on assisted living with cerebral palsy who couldn’t vote because she didn’t have an ID and lacked the ability to get one,” he said. “She finally succeeded in getting an absentee ballot.”

Now, officials in Mecklenburg County, the largest in the state, have promptly cut 238 hours of early voting.

“The right to vote is a fundamental issue for African-Americans throughout the history of this country,” said Matthews, who emphasized the importance of standing up to “fear tactics that prevent people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Numbers of African-Americans have given their lives for this right.”

The Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act’s provisions establishing a requirement for “preclearance” by federal authorities before states and local jurisdictions with a proven history of racist discrimination in voting rights could adopt new voting laws. Nine states, including North Carolina, others in the South, and in Arizona, along with sections of New York, Michigan and California, were covered.

Black rights fighters and other working people have been fighting against its effects ever since.

In a related development, a federal district court Aug. 11 struck down North Carolina’s gerrymandered voting districts that keep Blacks from voting. “Race was the predominant factor motivating the drawing of all challenged districts,” the court ruled.  
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