Midterm elections are right around the corner, and for the North Carolina NAACP and the Advancement Project, this month represents a do-or-die moment in what will be the last time to put an end to the sweeping voter-suppression law enacted in June 2013 before voting starts this year.
At an injunction hearing scheduled for Monday, the state NAACP plans to challenge the law by providing a detailed breakdown of how exactly it contributes to the disenfranchisement of African Americans and Latinos.
As the law, which is often dubbed the worst voter-suppression law in the country, stands now, it slices off a week of early voting, eliminates same-day voter registration as well as pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and authorizes poll observers to challenge people who show up to vote. It also requires a government-issued photo-ID card in order to vote … but doesn’t allow student IDs, public-employee IDs or IDs issued by public assistance agencies. And that is just scratching the surface of what the law limits.
One of the attorneys on the case, Irving Joyner, explained how the specific blockades put up by the law target African Americans.
“For example, African Americans in North Carolina used same-day registration and early voting at higher rates than white voters,” he said. “In 2012, 70 percent of African Americans who voted used early voting; 34 percent of registered North Carolina voters who don’t have photo IDs are African Americans, despite comprising just 22 percent of the voting population.
“African Americans make up less than one quarter of the voting population in North Carolina, but cast nearly one third of the out-of-precinct ballots,” he continued. “The preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds in North Carolina, and the voter-registration drives at high schools that became a part of that, have been widely successful at getting young voters registered.”
Advancement Project Co-Director Penda Hair pointed out that highlighting facts such as these is all part of the plan to hopefully bring the law to an end.
“We want to ensure that these voters’ stories can be heard now because so much is at stake if the law is not stopped. At the hearing, we will show indisputable evidence that North Carolina voting law has a disparate impact on voters of color and will abridge the right to vote for people across the state,” Hair said during a press call Tuesday regarding the hearing.
Although the NAACP, along with other groups such as the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, has filed lawsuits, those cases won’t go to full trial until 2015. The hope with Monday’s hearing is to put a speed bump in the way of the law before it has the chance to go into full effect with the midterm election.
“We move our protests to courts and in the fall we will move our protest to the polls as well,” the Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said during Tuesday’s call. “We cannot stand by while the franchise of voting is under attack in such a tremendous way.”
The law, as Hair describes it, targets “nearly every aspect of the voting process: who can vote, where they can vote, when they can vote and how they can vote.”
“We are asking the court to enjoin the state from implementing several different provisions of this law. So we are asking that the early-voting cutbacks be enjoined and be barred from being implemented so there would be the full 17 days of early voting in the fall, including the two Sundays, and it would not be cut to one Sunday as the bill would do,” Hair explained in further detail. “We are also asking that the provision eliminating same-day registration be barred so that there would be same-day registration during the early-voting period as North Carolina has done for the past several years that has greatly contributed to the increase of participation by African Americans.”
“We are asking that the rules on provisional ballots be restored to allow a provisional ballot that is cast in the right county, but the wrong precinct, to be counted for any office where the precinct doesn’t matter. So if you accidentally go to the wrong precinct because your polling place has been changed, or your precinct has been split, then at least the top of the ticket votes on that ballot would count,” she added. “And we are also asking that the court bar the procedures that allow many, many more people to come into the polls and challenge voters and intimidate voters.”
One such example of intimidation: Although the requirement for voter ID does not go into effect until 2016, starting this year poll workers can ask if voters have identification.
“That has created a great amount of confusion among voters and also discourages some voters. If you’re standing in line and the people in front of you are being asked for ID, you may just turn away because you don’t have it,” Hair pointed out.
Of course, requiring ID is but one way that the suppression law disproportionately affects African Americans.
“Many, particularly older African Americans were born during the Jim Crow era, where they were not able to go to hospitals to be born, but were rather born in homes and they didn’t have birth certificates available to them. They were delivered by midwives and often times the other members of the family, and the recordation of those births typically appeared in Bibles as the truthfulness of the assertion of the birth date,” Joyner pointed out. “Now it is impossible for them to get birth certificates, which then is a critical link in [getting] driver’s licenses and other forms of ID because the attestation in the Bible does not serve as valid evidence of birth.”
Barber spoke of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, 93-year-old Rosanell Eaton, who had walked with Martin Luther King Jr. and lived through the horrors of Jim Crow and whose hard-earned privilege might be stripped.
“Under this current voter-suppression law, this lady who was forced to read the preamble of the Constitution in order to pass a literary test, this lady who has registered thousands of people to vote in her lifetime and even walked with Dr. King, this lady, under the requirements of this new voter-suppression law, will be disenfranchised,” Barber said.
The Monday morning faceoff will start at 9:30 a.m., and each side will have 18 hours to present their testimony and cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. The hearing is expected to last from Monday to Thursday, and could continue into Friday or the following Monday as deemed necessary.
“This is our Selma because this law is the first of its kind,” Barber added. “And if it goes unchallenged, unchecked, it could spread like a virus around the country.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.