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Voting Right Trial Closes

Fifty years ago, Dr. King asked the question “How Long?”  before African Americans will gain the right to vote and have full access to citizenship.

On Thursday, August 6, it will be the 50th anniversary of Voting Rights Act, but many feel, the rights earned after the passage of the law, are being taken away by currently voter suppression legislation.

Activists have taken the voter suppression battle into a North Carolina courtroom contesting what they claimed is one of the harshest voting rights laws in the country.  The N.C. N.A.A.C.P filed suit against the state and Gov. Pat McCory after the legislature passed H.B. 589 or more commonly known as Voter Identification and Verification Act (V.I.V.A) which they said restrict many of the provisions won after the historic Voting Rights Act (V.R.A).  The law reduced early voting days, stopped same-day registration, ended out-of-precinct voting and stopped preregistration of 16-and 17 year-old high school students.  Most of these processes were used by minority voters.

Closing arguments were completed on Friday, July 31.  Plaintiff’s attorney Daniel Donovan, in final summation, argued that the overall effect of H.B. 589 put the law in direction violation of Sec. 2 of the V.R.A.  “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Donovan said.

Judge Thomas Schroeder closely questioned Donovan posing such hypothetical to the plaintiff’s attorneys: What would be standard of remedy for 589 if I granted relief?  How would the court know if it had corrected the law?

Thomas Farr, a state attorney, said the plaintiff’s had not proved that the law is racially discriminatory, and that legislature had the right to change election laws.  H.B. 589 was passed less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v Holder where the court struck down certain pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The case has garnered international attention from activists, civil rights and legal scholars who have stated that the case could set the template for changes in voting rights legislation.

Judge Schroeder is not expected to make a ruling for several weeks.

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Voting Rights Trial expected to end this week

Testimony is expected to end this week in the civil suit seeking to overturn North Carolina’s controversial voting rights law, Voter Information Verification Act (V.I.V.A).   On Friday, the defense started presenting expert witnesses who testified that V.I.V.A has presented no major obstacles to minority and poor voters.

Defense attorney Thomas Farr on Monday called Sean Trende, a Senior Election Analyst with Real Clear Politics a conservative politics web site, who testified that V.I.V.A. didn’t have any major impact on minority voter turnout in 2014 arguing that the law didn’t change early voting, out-of-precinct voting or the youth vote in any substantial way.

But in an aggressive exchange with one of plaintiff’s attorney Dale Ho, Trende acknowledged he only enrolled in two statistics courses as a graduate student.  Trende never received his Ph.d in any discipline although he has earned a master’s degree in political science and a law degree from Duke University, as well as, he earned a bachelor’s from Yale University.

Attorney Ho further challenged him about his credentials on early voting where Trende acknowledge that his only work in this area was an exchange on Twitter.  He admitted further that his testimony was incorrect in an earlier case about California as a state that allowed same day registration.

Farr said that Trende was more than qualified with his work at Real Clear Politics and his work with University of Virginia Professor Larry Sabado’s Crystal Ball.  He has also been used as an expert guest on Fox News and NPR.

But attorney Ho said that Trende hadn’t studied election laws in all 50 states, and it would further erode his credibility as an expert witness on election law.

Judge Thomas Schroeder admitted Trende as an expert witness.  “I’m going to listen to what he has to say,” Judge Schroeder said.

V.I.V.A restricts voting rights for blacks

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

JUNETEENTH

Juneteenth-Banner-Image

 

Each year some African American communities commemorate the end of slavery with a celebration called “Juneteenth”.  Although, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January, 1863 many enslaved people didn’t learn of their freedom until many months later, and in the case of Salem, N.C. and Galveston, Texas it was nearly two years later.

This month there will be hundreds of Juneteenth celebration scheduled as the African-American community honors the memories of those who died in the Civil War bringing forth a “New Birth’ of freedom to this country.  Most of these celebration involve music, food, dance, and commemorative speeches as a form of remembrance.

On June 4, Old Salem in Winston-Salem, N.C. will hosts a luncheon in which Dr.Reginald F. Hildebrand, Associate Professor of African American Studies and History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will speak about The First Year of Freedom in North Carolina: Pursuing Freedom with the Hoe and the Sword, the Book and the Lord.”  He will use primary sources like letters, news reports, and diaries to explain some of the ways in which freedom was experienced in North Carolina in the year 1865.

Enslaved people first celebrated Juneteenth on June 19, 1865 in Texas, but the commemorative services has spread to 36 states.  Celebrants barbecue, sip strawberry soda among other activities such as singing, African dance, and enjoying poetry readings.

 

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