A history professor testified that if the Voter Identification Verification Act (V.I.V.A) is allowed to stand it will stagnate voting rights and hamper economic and social progress in North Carolina.
Dr. James Leloudis, a University of North Carolina history professor who is an expert in the history of N.C. and the South, said V.I.V.A. is discriminatory against blacks and other minorities because it restricts voting by reducing same-day registration, by restricting pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-old, and reduces an extended early voting period—all provisions used disproportionately by blacks. His testimony was before Judge Thomas D. Schroeder in U.S. Middle District Court in the case brought by N.A.A.C.P and other plaintiffs against the state of North Carolina.
“If House Bill 589 is allowed to stand, North Carolina risks repeating history, once again setting aside hard-won gains for racial equality and for the state’s democratic and economic vitality,” said Leloudis. Professor Leloudis emphasized that the law fit a “cyclical” pattern in North Carolina history of expansion of voting rights followed immediately by a conservative restriction of suffrage for minority and progressive whites.
Phillip Strach, attorney representing the state, countered that Professor Leloudis hadn’t review the legislative history of H.B. 589, nor had he conducted a survey of voter attitudes toward the bill.
Recounting the history of voting in the state, Leloudis said in the late 1890s black Republicans and progressive whites had formed a coalition called “Fusionist” and they expanded universal male suffrage, increased funding for education, and elected the highest number of black officials in the state’s history. Leloudis testified that there were over 1,000 locally elected black officials across North Carolina, and ninety percent of registered black voters participated in the 1986 election. About three quarters of the legislative assembly was composed of Black Republicans and progressive white candidates as a result of the election.
“It was one of the most remarkable moments in state history as an example of inclusive democracy,” he testified. “During these periods of change, North Carolina won recognition as the most democratic state in the South.”
But, the white supremacists, whose mouthpiece was the Raleigh News and Observer, led a campaign of intimidation and violence in regaining control of the state legislature. In Winston-Salem, the local Republican newspaper reported that “there were crowds of men who gathered around the polls in each ward and… ..boldly drove a large per cent of the colored Republicans voters and good many white voters away from the poll,” according to Leloudis report.
Based on his report, Leloudis testified that black participation in elections went to virtually zero in the early 1900s as a result of the white backlash, and continued to suffer during the Jim Crow era in state politics. African Americans made electoral gains after passage of the Voting Rights law, but saw restrictions during the conservative backlash of the late 1900s. The height of the backlash occurred during race baiting senatorial election in which Republican Jesse Helms used a racial inflammatory ad against black candidate Harvey Gantt. The infamous 1990 “Hands” ad showed a white man allegedly being denied a job because of affirmative action programs.
The trial is expected to end this week, but Judge Thomas Schroeder is not expected to immediately rule in the case.