Members of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus and Rev. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP visited Washington on Wednesday to press members of Congress to revise the Voting Rights Act to keep federal oversight on parts of North Carolina.
The Supreme Court last year threw out the section of the law that provides a formula for when a place requires federal oversight of any changes to its voting procedures. Congress is working now to craft a new formula. Proposed legislation sets a formula that would make only Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia subject to Justice Department preclearance of any changes to voting rules.
“Any fix that gives us less protection than we had 49 years ago (when the Voting Rights Act was passed) is not a fix – it’s a failure,” Barber said in a morning gathering on Capitol Hill.
“We are running out of time, because the elections are in November,” U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield told the group.
Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, has participated in crafting a bipartisan bill aimed at getting enough support to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. He said he doesn’t like what’s on paper so far.
The current formula would require five voting rights violations over a period of 15 years, and one of them would have to be an action by the state. Butterfield said the formula should drop the requirement for a state action and reduce the total number of violations required to four.
If the state requirement isn’t dropped, counties could commit many more than five violations and no federal oversight would be required as long as there was no violation by the state, Barber said.
The group boarded a bus in Raleigh at 2:30 a.m. to make it to Washington in time for early morning meetings. They met before 9 a.m. with Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro, and planned to talk to Sen. Kay Hagan and others. State Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said she requested a meeting with Republican Sen. Richard Burr as well.
If the Supreme Court hadn’t thrown out part of the law last year, the Justice Department would have had to clear the state’s new voting law before it could be put in place, and activists could have asked for a review of Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to postpone an election to fill the District 12 congressional seat, Barber said. The seat has been vacant since former Rep. Mel Watt became head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in January.