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Jan
2016
29

Crow’s Test: North Carolina Voter ID Stands Trial, Will Have Sweeping Implications for 2016 Elections

Josh Bergeron / Salisbury Post - A member of the Salisbury group that traveled to Winston-Salem holds up a sign during a Moral Monday March. The march occured on the same day as the start of a federal trial over North Carolina's voter ID law.

Josh Bergeron / Salisbury Post – A member of the Salisbury group that traveled to Winston-Salem holds up a sign during a Moral Monday March. The march occured on the same day as the start of a federal trial over North Carolina’s voter ID law.



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In North Carolina, a federal case examining the constitutionality of a voter identification law passed by the state legislature began on Monday.  The law requires that a photo ID be shown in order to be eligible to vote, a requirement that is proportionally harder to meet for the elderly and minorities.  The case has widespread ramifications for the upcoming presidential election.

Many experts believe that if it is found to be constitutional, Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation will take aggressive action in its footsteps.  For those opposed to the law, the argument is simple: “The state should be making it easier for people to engage in the fundamental right to vote, not harder.” Those words were uttered by Michael Glick, a Washington lawyer representing the NAACP in the North Carolina case.

Since the 2010 midterm elections, 21 states have added voting restrictions. In this year’s elections, 15 states will have these rules in place for the first time.  Eight states currently have strict photo identification laws. So U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder’s decision will be incredibly important to the national electoral conversation. He will decide whether North Carolina violated the Voting rights Act of 1965.  As the Washington Post notes, Schroeder began to hear arguments on the rest of the law last year:

Schroeder held a three-week trial last summer on the rest of the election law, which reduces the number of days of early voting, disallows people from registering and voting on the same day, stops ballots cast in the wrong precinct from being counted, and ends the practice of pre-registering teenagers before they turn 18. Schroeder has not yet ruled on that case.

Among the main witnesses for the case against the voter ID law is 94-year old Rosanell Eaton, who was unable to travel to Winston-Salem because of the recent blizzard. Video of her deposition from last year was played on courtroom monitors.  Background on Eaton and her lifelong fight for the right to vote comes from Bill Moyers:

In 1942, the 21-year-old Eaton took a two-hour mule ride to the Franklin County courthouse in eastern North Carolina to register to vote. The three white male registrars told her to stand up straight, with her arms at her side, look straight ahead and recite the preamble to the Constitution from memory. After she did that word for word, they gave her a written literacy test, which she also passed. Eaton was one of the few blacks to pass a literacy test and make it on the voting rolls in the Jim Crow era.

A granddaughter of a slave, she became a lifelong voting-rights activist, personally registering 4,000 new voters before losing count. But in 2013, after voting for 70 years, she became a casualty of North Carolina’s new voter-ID law, which goes into effect this year, because the name on her voter registration card (Rosanell Eaton) did not match the name on her driver’s license (Rosa Johnson Eaton).

Beginning in January 2015, Eaton undertook a herculean effort to match her various documents and comply with the law. Over the course of a month, she made 11 trips to different state agencies — four trips to the DMV, four trips to two different Social Security offices, and three trips to different banks — totaling more than 200 miles and 20 hours. “It was really stressful and difficult, [a] headache and expensive, everything you could name,” she said.

Not everyone in Eaton’s position has the resources, family support, or good health fortune to meet the new law’s standards.  This is one of the many reasons why Schroeder, rights advocates feel, has a duty to protect people against disenfranchisement.

Reverend William Barber, President of the state North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of the “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh,decried the law’s intent:

“The right to vote is supposed to be constitutional, not confusing.  North Carolina’s restrictive photo-ID law remains an immoral and unconstitutional burden on voters that creates two unequal tiers of voters. We are prepared to challenge this modern form of Jim Crow in the courts even as we continue our grassroots work.”

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