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North Carolina Voters Face Unnecessary Obstacles to the Polls

Written by Featured Organization on 14 April 2014.

National Commission on Voting Rights Hears from Voters at North Carolina Public Hearing -- WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, March 28, 2014 at a National Commission on Voting Rights (NCVR) public hearing, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), voters, activists, and voting rights advocates gathered at the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rocky Mount, North Carolina to share their experiences of the voting challenges they continue to face in North Carolina. “House Bill 589 reduced the early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, eliminating the first week of early voting,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Justice. “This cut in early voting will be felt most harshly by African-American voters. In both 2008 and 2012 general elections, 70 percent of African-American voters voted early, as compared to about 50 percent of white voters.”

Riggs’ testimony on the effects of House Bill 589 was among a diverse range of voting administration issues addressed by expert witness panels and general public witnesses representing disability rights advocates, African-American, Asian and Latino justice organizations, and organizers advancing the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, many of whom are also members of underrepresented African-American and Latino communities in North Carolina.

profile by John Travis Holt

Guest Commissioners Barbara Arnwine, president and executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Eva Clayton, former member of the United States House of Representatives; Raymond Pierce, partner, Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough LLP; Ellie Kinnaird, former member of the North Carolina State Assembly; and David Harris, managing partner, Linck Harris Law Group, PLLC , heard about the challenges, successes and

opportunities for reform in all aspects of voting in North Carolina.Other topics includedvote dilution, voting discrimination, the challenges faced by rural voters and voters with physical disabilities, voter registration gaps and the underrepresentation of growing communities of color in local election systems. 

The Rocky Mount, North CarolinaHearing was the 10th hearing in a series of nationwide hearings scheduled through the spring to collect testimony about voting discrimination and election administration challenges and successes.  Over the past few years, numerous states have enacted restrictive voting laws, while many others continue to grapple with recurring election administration challenges and some have proposed reform to expand access.  Additionally, this past June, the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holderstripped away a key Voting Rights Act protection against voting discrimination.  The goal of the NCVR is to document both what continues to keep voters from the ballot box as well as efforts to increase access, in two reports, which will be released in 2014.

NCVR hearings will continue to address a range of topics, including: voting changes, voter registration, voter ID, election administration (e.g., provisional ballots, polling location issues, and method of elections), voting discrimination, student voting issues, and access to the ballot for individuals with disabilities, language minority voters, and communities of color.  Upcoming hearings include:

April 7, 2014: Louisiana

April 11, 2014: NYC Regional (Connecticut, New Jersey and New York)

April 21, 2014: Kansas City Regional (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska)

April 26, 2014: Nevada & Utah

For more information about the National Commission on Voting Rights, please visit ncvr.lawyerscommittee.org. 

Quotes from North Carolina Guest Commissioners:

Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

“North Carolina is such an important state in these conversations because it has made so much progress over the past 50 years, and much of that progress is in serious danger of being reversed. Following theShelby County decision which gutted the protections of the Voting Rights Act, the [North Carolina] state legislature passed The Monster voting bill, which was an attack on the right to vote of the likes we haven’t seen in modern times. “

Eva Clayton, former member of the United States House of Representatives

“The right to vote is one of the defining characteristics of our American democracy, which is governed by the people, or the people they elect. However, blacks and other minorities have had a bumpy road to full participation to elect the people who govern America.”

Raymond Pierce, Partner, Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough LLP

"The collective conscious is best measured by the democratic process that our country has in place. And I would argue that…the importance of a democratic process to gauge the collective conscience of the nation is as important now if not more important than any other time in our nation.”

Ellie Kinnaird, former member of the North Carolina State Assembly

"Another sad loss was that early voting has been shortened by one week. Projects such as ‘Souls to the Polls’, which carried people on buses after church to polling places, was highly successful. With shortened early voting, that is no longer widely available. Losing a week of voting will cut down on the number of people who will vote.”

David Harris, Managing Partner, Linck Harris Law Group, PLLC 

“Your testimony, today, on the current problems in exercising the right to vote, and the problems that will be caused by House Bill 589 helps to create the record the Commission needs to present to Congress…to fix and renew Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Supporting organizations (not exhaustive):  Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Advancement Project, UNC Center for Civil Rights, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, ACLU of North Carolina and Democracy North Carolina.

Above, Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Justice testified about the effects of House Bill 589 on minority communities.