Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday in the trial of North Carolina’s voting law, a case that tests access to the voting booth in a state with lingering memories of discriminatory poll taxes and literacy tests.
Attorneys are expected to argue for four hours — two hours to each side — as to why the 2013 overhaul to North Carolina’s election laws should or should not stand.
Challengers, including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and others, argue that key provisions to the amended election law disenfranchise thousands of black, Hispanic and young voters.
Representatives of the Republican-led legislature and governor counter that the changes adopted a month after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act put the same onus on all.
The case wraps up a week before the 50th anniversary of the landmark federal legislation intended to protect hard-fought rights to participate in the electoral process. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder has presided over the trial.
This past week, attorneys for the state legislators and governor called six witnesses — Janet Thornton, a labor economist at Florida-based Economic Research Services; Trey Hood, a political science professor at the University of Georgia; Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics; and Thomas Hofeller, a consultant who acted for many years as the Republican National Committee’s redistricting director.
Kim Strach, executive director of the state board of elections, and Brian Neesby, a data analyst for the board, also testified this past week. Strach has testified for both sides about the effects of:
▪ Decreasing the number of days that voters can cast a ballot before election day;
▪ Eliminating same-day registration that allowed voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day’
▪ Prohibiting out-of-precinct voting; and
▪ Ending a popular pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The challengers argue that black, Latino and young voters, who often lean Democratic, are disproportionately affected by the changes. Advocates for the changes say those changes and the voter ID requirement, which goes into effect next year, are designed to prevent voter fraud and cut down on election costs.
The ID requirement, because of a change adopted on the eve of the trial by the legislature, was not one of the measures included in the courtroom arguments these past three weeks. Judge Schroeder said he would weigh that section later this summer.
Last week, Strach acknowledged that black voters use same-day voter registration and early voting at higher levels than whites. She also stated that she had found no evidence of significant voter fraud in same-day voter registration. She also said that more than 96,000 people who used same-day voter registration in 2012 might not have been able to vote under the state’s 2013 election law overhaul.
Many of the state’s experts argued that voter participation among blacks, Hispanic and young voters increased despite the election law changes. But experts for the challengers contend the statistics are taken out of context. They argue that turnout among black, Latino and young voters increased nationally, and should have been higher in North Carolina.
Between 2000 and 2012 – after the adoption of key voting reforms in North Carolina, such as early voting, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting – black turnout increased by 65 percent. In 2008 and 2012, two key presidential election years, African-Americans registered and voted at a higher rate than whites for the first time in state history.