NC NAACP Testimony Submitted to U.S. Senate Committee on Proposed Fix to the Voting Rights Act

To explain how North Carolina has seen its expansive voter protections rolled back since the Shelby Co. v. Holder decision gutted the Voting Rights Act’s Section V preclearance requirement, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II submitted testimony into the record for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary as they consider the Voting Rights Amendment Act 2014. 

Below is a copy of Dr. Barber's testimony:

Testimony of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II,

President of the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE 

Submitted for the Record of THE UNITED STATES SENATE Committee on the Judiciary 

Hearing before the Full Committee on the Voting Rights Amendment Act, S.1945:

Updating the Voting Rights Act in Response to Shelby County v. Holder (June 25, 2014):

The History of Voting Rights and Protecting the Franchise in North Carolina

I.     Introduction

I thank the Committee for holding this hearing and welcome the opportunity to testify regarding the need to reconstruct the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  I am the President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (“NC NAACP”) and the leader of the Forward Together Moral Movement for civil rights that is being embraced by hundreds of thousands of people across the South.  The NC NAACP is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization composed of over 100 local branches and 20,000 individual members throughout the state of North Carolina.  It has members who are citizens and registered voters in each of the state’s 100 counties, including the 41 counties previously covered by the Voting Rights Act. The Forward Together Moral Movement is a multiracial movement of blacks, whites and Latinos seeking a just and inclusive democracy.   I hope that you hear my call for justice and do all that is necessary to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act. 

Click "read more" to read the full statement

 

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, inclusive democracy is under attack in ways that dangerously and disproportionately imperil voters of color.  North Carolina is a stark example of the continued need for the Voting Rights Act and why Congress must amend it in a way that will ensure that voting practices like North Carolina’s are subject to the federal review.  The full protections of the Voting Rights Act remain necessary to ensure that the promises of the Reconstruction Amendments are kept.  In North Carolina, we have been subjected to the most evil, egregious and comprehensive voter suppression bill since the Shelby decision.  In fact it is an extraordinary stratagem encompassing perhaps the worst discrimination in voting we have experienced since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) was passed to end poll taxes, literacy tests, and many other forms of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination in voting that persisted in this nation for a century after the Reconstruction Amendments were adopted.  Tragically, without the protections of the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provisions, Jim Crow-era voting shenanigans are repeating themselves in North Carolina. Congress must act to stop adversaries of interracial democracy from doing further damage to our fundamental voting rights.  On this 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, we all must remember that people died for the right to vote. 

This is because even considering current conditions, history is important.  History shows us that without the preclearance protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which cover states with ongoing and repeated incidents of discrimination in voting, extremists in these states will continue to attempt to disenfranchise voters of color in ways that are difficult to stop.  In fact, that is precisely why the North Carolina NAACP was forced to undertake expensive, time-consuming and difficult litigation to try to stop our state’s most recent attempt to disenfranchise voters of color – measures that previously would have had federal review before they could be implemented.

 

II.       The First Reconstruction

Looking at the historical pattern, one can easily see the need for the full protections of the VRA in states like North Carolina.  The right to freedom from discrimination in voting was explicitly guaranteed by the 15th Amendment enacted on February 3, 1870, part of the three Reconstruction amendments enacted after slavery was abolished.  The 15th Amendment clearly set forth that, “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”  In states like North Carolina, this meant that African Americans could finally participate in our democracy.  There was a surge in political participation and power among people of color.  However, the backlash to political participation by African Americans was strong and harsh. Southern states reacted by putting in place numerous restrictions to our voting rights, including poll taxes, literacy tests, laws disenfranchising persons with former felony convictions, and out and out intimidation.  Widespread violence at the polls often kept voters of color away.

The history of discrimination in voting in North Carolina is long and cyclical, with ebbs and flows in permitting people of color to vote.  After the Civil War, in 1866, the state legislature passed the “Black Codes,” controlling freedom of movement and prohibiting the freedmen from voting.  In 1868, the state ratified the14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship to all persons born in the United States, as well as equal protection and due process under the law.  Also in 1868, black and white delegates wrote a new state constitution enshrining the right to vote for all men and criminalizing intimidation of voters through violence, bribery or threats.  There was a truly multiracial coalition behind a vibrant democracy emerging in my state, which was led by the Republican Party.  

Founded in 1868, the Ku Klux Klan (“KKK”) began exercising vigilante violence across the South, including North Carolina.  They murdered the first black town commissioner in Graham, North Carolina, and hung his body in the town square. They murdered a white Republican state senator in the Caswell County Courthouse.  KKK mobs killed, assaulted, flogged and otherwise terrorized black citizens and whites who sided with them.  Despite violence around the state, white Conservatives did not have a clear majority as blacks and poor whites, many of whom were ensnared in the same crop lien system—sharecropping and tenant farming—came together to oppose their policies.  Between 1877 and 1900, 52 African American men served in the state legislature, and four served in the U.S. House of Representatives.  From 1894 – 1898, North Carolina had a biracial “Fusion” government,” and the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches is leading a movement to resurrect Fusion politics in North Carolina today.

During the first Fusion government, electoral reform included establishment of clear precinct lines, rules requiring the appointment of impartial election judges, accommodations for illiterate voters, and further prohibitions against voter intimidation.  During this time, North Carolinians elected more than 1,000 African Americans to local office.  From the 1894 to the 1896 elections, turnout among registered black voters went from 60 to almost 90 percent. 

Today, Congress must remember that protection of the right to vote was what led to increased participation in North Carolina.  Protection of the right to vote brought about the most democratic political system in the South in the 19th century, led by Republicans.  Moreover, the backlash to this expanded democracy in the next phase of history and its Jim Crow laws is what decreased African-American voting.  We are seeing a similar backlash today 

In 1898 and 1900, the “white supremacy campaigns,” as their organizers called them, overthrew the state and many local governments by force, fraud, intimidation and racial demagoguery.  The old Conservative Party, renamed as the Democratic Party, took power again through racial appeals, along with violence and intimidation by the “Red Shirt” vigilantes that drove African-American and progressive white voters from the polls.  Through these methods, Democrats swept the state elections in the name of white supremacy.  In Wilmington, North Carolina, white supremacists staged a military coup in the state’s largest city, which had a black majority, and removed all the Fusionists, white and black, from office at gunpoint.  They also set fire to the printing press of the Wilmington Journal, perhaps the country’s only black daily newspaper, and murdered dozens of black citizens in the streets. 

In 1900, the North Carolina legislature vowed to strip African Americans of their voting rights.  They passed their own constitutional amendment imposing a literacy test for voting, along with a “grandfather clause” exempting those whose grandfathers had been eligible to vote, which obviously excluded the grandchildren of the formerly enslaved.  A new poll tax, revised voter registration rules, and new rules permitting any elector to challenge any voter upon suspicion of fraud and subject to the discretion of the local registrar, were also passed into law.  These measures disfranchised nearly all African-American voters and a number of poor whites.  Not surprisingly, voter participation fell sharply, and the white Conservatives entrenched their control of the state.  Blacks were almost completely eliminated from political power for two generations.  During this time, many African Americans were willing to bravely face down violence, but restrictive voting laws and procedures still disenfranchised them. 

The failure to protect voting rights ushered in the era of Jim Crow, codifying white supremacy as law.  To briefly summarize this complex era, without equal access to the right to vote, a series of racial segregation laws were passed in North Carolina from 1900 – 1921.  Where we were once multiracial in the public sphere, we were no longer allowed to be in the same spaces, and those spaces to which African Americans were relegated were replete with suffering from economic decline.  We had segregated schools, work places, public places, and even church and family life.  In 1950, for example, Senator Willis Smith won on a blatantly white supremacist agenda (with campaign materials asking “Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and daughters?..  sitting with you and your family at all public meetings?..  going to white schools?..[.]”).  Further discrimination in voting was legislated through strong local government models, as well as manipulating the district lines to ensure that whites would stay in power.  The Jim Crow era also prompted a long civil rights movement based in large part on a moral calling.  It included the difficult work by organizers and individual citizens to pass the literacy tests, pay the poll taxes, and attempt to participate as equals in American democracy.  In North Carolina, black students held sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960, which led to the forming of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh and numerous sit-ins, boycotts and protest movements across the South.  Our state’s members of the NAACP also participated in the Voter Education Project, which between 1962 and 1964 registered nearly 800,000 voters across the region.

 

III.    The Second Reconstruction: From Freedom Summer to the Passage of the Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both of whom traveled from New York to help register blacks to vote, and James Chaney, a brave young African-American volunteer for the Congress for Racial Equality in Meridian, Mississippi, disappeared.  As we all know, they had been stopped and turned over by the local police to the KKK, who murdered them, and, as was evident by the mutilation of James Chaney’s body, brutally tortured him.  This was less than six months after the 23rd Amendment had abolished the poll tax, which had been instituted in 11 southern states, including North Carolina, to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote. 

Murders, beatings, bombings, arson and intimidation marked the Freedom Summer of across the South, with the violence committed by those determined to suppress African-American voting rights.  In North Carolina and across the region, fraud, foot-dragging and various forms of subterfuge also blocked black ballots.  In the face of this onslaught, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law on July 2, 1964.  But the right to vote was far from guaranteed.  During this period in North Carolina, those who had refused to let African Americans eat at the same lunch counter as whites were not eager to let us vote to change that.

On what is known in our nation’s history as “Bloody Sunday,” on March 5, 1965, during a peaceful march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, local police brutalized peaceful activists marching for the right to vote with tear gas, clubs, whips, and fire hoses, leading to the hospitalization of 50 of them.  Reaction to the violence, in conjunction with a massive lobbying effort, helped to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This legislation was necessary to enforce the 15th Amendment, which had been ratified almost a century earlier. 

Even with the full protections of the VRA, voting rights have been a struggle in North Carolina.  Without those protections, the many VRA violations from 1965-2013 would have resulted in disenfranchisement, rather than the higher levels of participation of African Americans who deeply appreciate the sacred nature of our voting rights.

 

The Struggle for Voting Rights in North Carolina from 1965-2013

After the passage of the VRA of 1965, voter registration among African Americans in North Carolina finally surpassed 50 percent.  Even so, Section 5 immediately covered 40 counties due to low registration.  Also in 1965, a federal court ruled that the district schemes of the North Carolina State House and Senate violated the one-person, one-vote rule derived from the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.  In 1966, the state convened a special session to redraw legislative district lines as ordered by the federal court, but the state legislature found another way to dilute African-American voting power by making all the districts multi-member and “numbered” at the county level.  This guaranteed that any black candidate had to face a white candidate at the county level.  Out of the 170 members of the state General Assembly, the first African American was elected in 1968.  This was Representative Henry Frye, who was also the first African American elected to state office in North Carolina since 1898.  The second black legislator since the First Reconstruction, Mickey Michaux, won election in 1970.  But up until 1980, only four African Americans served in the state General Assembly at the same time.

On July 30, 1971, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) objected to the state’s redistricting plan under Section 5 of the VRA.  On September 27 of the same year, the DOJ again objected to the state’s subsequent, slightly-amended plan.  (During the same year, DOJ also objected to two different iterations of the state’s literacy tests for registration.)  In 1981, the state legislature enacted a new redistricting plan, which it did not submit to Section 5 review.  It relied on the state constitutional rule that counties could not be split in legislative districts, to continue to discriminate in voting.  In the case of Thornburg v. Gingles, in 1982, the Supreme Court found that North Carolina state redistricting plans violated Section 2 of the VRA.  What is remarkable is that the state legislature changed the plan in various ways, each an attempt to put in the minimum number of black districts legally possible.  While slight improvements were made in the face of the Gingles litigation, the state continued to discriminate.  Such is the history of voting rights in North Carolina.

This history also demonstrates why we need both Section 2 and 5 coverage of the VRA in North Carolina.  Section 5 is designed to prevent retrogression and so it must be shown that the discriminatory voting procedure “retrogresses” from the prior one; however, this is not at all useful when the new one is a little better but still discriminatory.  Section 2 is designed to prevent other schemes of discrimination in voting that cannot meet the retrogression standard, where a voting practice has a disparate impact on voters of color as compared to white voters.  We have experienced both in North Carolina, and unfortunately, recent history shows that we will still need both. 

Over the past 30 years, the DOJ has objected more than 60 times to changes in voting laws in North Carolina, consisting of some 155 discrete voting changes, where it was found that either the State or one of the covered political subdivisions within the State had failed to show that the proposed changes would not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.  This era is also marked by continuing and effective racial appeals campaigns, such as the notorious campaign of Senator Jesse Helms in 1990, and various instances of attempted intimidation of African-American voters.  In 1990, Mr. Helm’s third Senate race included this infamous racial appeals campaign:  "You needed that job and you were the best qualified.  But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is. . . . You'll vote on this issue next Tuesday.  For racial quotas, Harvey Gantt.  Against racial quotas, Jesse Helms."  Sadly, such examples are not limited to the past.  President Obama was mocked even at the 2012 Democratic Convention held in Charlotte, when a trailer of a local “patriot” parked outside the delegate’s hotels featured effigies of the President and state political figures hanging from nooses. 

North Carolina’s sordid history of racial appeals campaigns and racially discriminatory voting practices is well documented.  This legacy has resulted in lower socio-economic status for people of color in North Carolina, lower educational attainment, fewer elected representatives of color, racially polarized voting and other practices that have lessened opportunities for voters of color in North Carolina to elect candidates of their choice and be full participants in our democracy.

For a while, this appeared to be on the mend, as the legislature undertook a concerted effort to expand access to voters of color. Over the past two decades, an era I know well through my work and ministry, increasing access to the vote led to greater democracy and participation.  From 1999-2009, a series of laws in North Carolina expanded access to voting, through early voting, same-day registration, up-counting out-of-precinct ballots, and measures encouraging young people to vote – measures that had an especially profound impact on expanding access to African-American voters.  North Carolina went from 48th out of 50 states in voter participation in 1988, to 11th highest participation among all the states in 2012.  The preclearance protections of the Voting Rights Act were pivotal to increasing African-American participation, allowing North Carolina to move closer to the promise of including voters of color as full and equal citizens in our democracy.  In truth, the majority of the people think that all citizens deserve equal access to the right to vote, so we passed laws ensuring that.  After our appreciation of the ability to vote early and not on a workday, along with same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, African-American participation increased.  During 2012, there was a 67 percent increase in African-American turnout.  In 2012, over 80 percent of African Americans in North Carolina cast a ballot, and our first African-American president was re-elected.   

History shows that voting rights in North Carolina have as much to do with race as they do with party politics.  The 2010 election changed the composition of the state house, which is now under Republican control.  Now that the Shelby decision took away preclearance, without wasting any time, those who would currently suppress our voting rights starting cutting away at the means by which African Americans vote in my state through a dizzying array of new impediments to voting in a comprehensive voter suppression bill, H.B. 589.  Indeed, just after Shelby was handed down, State Senator Tom Apodaca, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, explained that the Senate hadn’t wanted the “legal headaches” of the VRA’s preclearance requirements, and “[n]ow we can go ahead with the full bill.”  North Carolina thus became one of the first states to pass more restrictive voting provisions following the Shelby ruling. 

A leading election-law scholar calls H.B. 589 “probably the most suppressive voting measure passed in the United States in decades.”  The law targets nearly every aspect of the voting process –decreasing the early voting period by a full week, eliminating same-day voter registration, eliminating out-of-precinct provisional ballots, expanding voter challenges at the polls, eliminating pre-registration for 16- and 17-year olds, eliminating straight party ticket voting, eliminating a state mandate for voter registration in high schools, among other restrictions; in short, it eliminates virtually all of the measures that were responsible for expanding voter access over the last two decades.  In our lawsuit challenging H.B. 589, (NC NAACP v. McCrory) now before the federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina, we even have to address intentional discrimination in voting. 

The data already shows that this new law will disproportionately harm voters of color, who are statistically more likely to use early voting, to cast ballots during the first week of early voting that has now been eliminated, to use same-day registration and pre-registration, to cast out-of-precinct ballots, and less likely to have or be able to obtain compliant state-issued photo ID.  During the 2012 presidential election, 70 percent of African Americans who voted did so through early voting.  Latinos are registered at lower rates, but they have disproportionately used same-day registration.  These have been highly popular programs used by large sections of the electorate, yet the North Carolina legislature did not offer any credible, non-discriminatory reason for cutting them.  The other provisions we are forced to litigate against are also highly likely to disproportionately impact blacks and Latinos.  The new voter challenge provisions are likely to be over-utilized against citizens of color, and unfortunately, in my home state, they evoke the days of Jim Crow as well as other discriminatory challenge practices of more recent years in North Carolina.  Regarding voter ID, although African Americans only comprise 22 percent of the our state’s electorate, two state Board of Elections analyses found that they comprise 31 to 34 percent of those who could not be matched with Department of Motor Vehicle records, and thus are apt to lack ID.  Among registered voters, African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to lack a state-issued photo ID.  Knowing this, the state legislature passed H.B. 589 through highly irregular and accelerated procedures, and despite the protest of thousands of North Carolina citizens in our Forward Together Moral Movement.

The current, multi-pronged voter suppression law is just another example of history repeating itself when protections of voting rights are removed in North Carolina.  The state legislature knew that the measures would disparately impact voters of color and decrease our opportunity to elect candidates of our choice, and yet they passed the law anyway.  After the Shelby decision, they even went so far as to make those measures even tougher, increasing the likelihood of suppressing voters of color.  This is a clear sign of discriminatory intent, as well as the nature of these issues in North Carolina, where the legislature has taken advantage of any legal opening to change the rules and suppress the vote as much as it can.  Let’s be clear: the Shelby ruling opened the door these discriminatory voting measures.  No longer bound by preclearance requirements of Section 5, states can implement voting restrictions without a preliminary federal review.  The burden now rests on voters and their advocates to identify restrictive voting practices, uncover evidence of disparate impact and discriminatory intent, and pursue challenges.  This is no small feat, is expensive, and a significant burden to place on voters.  It is clear that without Section 5, the persistent adversaries of interracial democracy in North Carolina were set free to make it harder for people of color to vote.

 

IV.       The Post-Shelby Era and the Need to Reconstruct the Voting Rights Act

The martyrs of the civil rights movement and the bipartisan leaders who passed the Voting Rights Act and reauthorized it four times—including by an overwhelming majority in 2006— all deserve better than what is happening in the South since the Shelby decision.  The many thousands of people who are part of our multiracial Forward Together Moral Movement, who are peacefully protesting North Carolina’s comprehensive voter suppression bill, also deserve better. 

The Shelby decision put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act by taking away its preclearance protections until Congress brings back the preclearance formula.  In the meantime, during only the last 365 days, five Southern states—Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia—have implemented restrictive voter ID laws that make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote as compared to white voters.  This continuing discrimination is, of course, in addition to a long history of discrimination in voting.  And as I discussed, in addition to its strict photo ID law, North Carolina passed and is attempting to implement a comprehensive voter suppression bill that cuts early voting, same-day registration, and out-of-precinct voting, all of which are overwhelmingly used by African-American and Latino voters. 

Unless we win in costly and protracted litigation, without preclearance, voters like Ms. Rosanell Eaton, lead plaintiff in our lawsuit, will no longer have equal opportunity to exercise their fundamental voting rights.  Ms. Eaton, 93, was one of the first African Americans in her county to register to vote in the 1940s, but unlike most white voters, she had to pass a literacy test. She had crosses burned on her lawn but even KKK terror did not stop her from registering other African Americans to vote.  Yet today, she will no longer be able to use early voting, no longer be able to help others use same-day registration, and because the name on her driver’s license does not match her name on her birth certificate and voter registration, she will have to incur substantial expense and time to be able to continue voting under the state’s restrictive new ID requirement.  The same is true for many Latino voters in North Carolina, thus, our lawsuit includes both African Americans and Latinos 

During the June 3, 2014 primary in Alabama, the 93-year-old African-American voter Mr. Willie Mims was prohibited from voting because he did not have an ID.  This is another voter ID law that was now not subject to review before implementation.  And just hours after the Shelby decision, the Texas Attorney General tweeted that he would be reinstating his state’s voter ID law.  As you know, this is the same law that in 2012, under the preclearance rules, a federal court found to illegally discriminate against African-American and Latino voters due to its imposing “strict, unforgiving burdens” on poor and minority voters.  There could not be a clearer example of the extraordinary stratagem of these states to attempt whatever forms of discrimination in voting they can, for whatever time they can.  The DOJ is suing both Texas and North Carolina with regard to their discriminatory voter ID laws under Section 2 of the VRA.  In the meantime, the Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas voter ID laws were already been put into place during the primaries, and portions of North Carolina’s voter ID law were in effect for the May 2014 primaries here.  Study after study has shown that a higher percent of African-American and Latino voters do not have the ID needed under new state requirements, yet since the Shelby decision, five southern states have implemented voter ID laws.  If preclearance is not restored—and if discriminatory voter ID laws are not given the same legal weight as other discriminatory laws in the preclearance formula—instead of free, fair and accessible elections, we will have, at best, a hotbed of litigation.

Moreover, these post-Shelby voting rights violations are already repetitive.  On January 13, 2014, the City of Evergreen, Alabama, submitted to a court-ordered consent decree in which it admitted to a very recent—but thrice-recurring—pattern of intentional discrimination through districts that dilute the voting strength of African Americans.  Meanwhile, in Florida, the state’s post-Shelby attempt to purge voters of color again was stopped only by intense advocacy and public outcry, as well as the proof that their recent purges have been discriminatory.  Florida’s pattern of purging, restricting third-party voter registration, and at the county level, likewise abridging the votes of African-American and Latino voters through vote dilution schemes, while similarly denying bilingual ballots and poll workers to voters of color who are entitled to them under the Voting Rights Act, is clear evidence of current conditions.  Moreover, the Sunshine State’s cuts to early voting led to the unconscionable long lines of 2012 that disparately impacted voters of color like 103-year-old Haitian American Ms. Desiline Victor, who was forced to stand in line for many hours before she could cast her ballot.  The repeated pattern of VRA violations in Florida shows that this is another state in which voting rights are quite vulnerable.  It is also an example of higher African-American turnout, but that is only because black voters were willing to overcome obstacles such as waiting on line for many hours longer than white voters. 

 V.       Conclusions and Recommendations

Americans agree that elections must be free, fair and accessible to all.  But many southern states, including North Carolina, currently evidence clear examples of ongoing attempted discrimination in voting, and through various methods such as cuts to early voting, discriminatory purges, discriminatory photo ID laws, moving district lines to dilute voting power of communities of color, and various discriminatory limits on the ability to register to vote.  The Shelby decision rests on states’ rights, but the people have rights as well.  These are still found in the 14th and 15th amendments of the First Reconstruction.  The full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enacted during the Second Reconstruction are quite plainly still needed today.  The Shelby decision requires immediate Congressional action to put North Carolina and other southern states with egregious and ongoing histories of racial discrimination in voting back under the effective protections of Section 5.  This conclusion is based on current conditions that we the people of the South can testify to.

First, while we disagree with the Shelby decision, the majority opinion acknowledges that there is still discrimination in voting, and my testimony shows that this is quite clearly the case in North Carolina.  At this very moment in history, voters in states like North Carolina need the umbrella of protection of federal preclearance to prevent discrimination in voting by these repeat offenders before it can disenfranchise voters of color during an election.  This is why Section 5’s preclearance provisions are so critical – once a vote is lost, it can never be regained.  The pattern of repeated discrimination in voting—and many examples of how it is continuing in states like North Carolina—calls for immediate Congressional action to comprehensively restore preclearance.  There is not only evidence of “current conditions of discrimination in voting;” in the formerly-covered jurisdictions in the South, it is extraordinary. 

Second, history shows that this is what happens when lawmakers stop being vigilant.  The repeated, cyclical pattern of discrimination in voting rears its ugly head again when protections against it are removed.  While there is no longer violence, intimidation persists, and voting procedures themselves continue to discriminate and keep us from fully participating as equals in American democracy.  And while African-American voter participation has improved, the need for Section 5 continues as our community is still experiencing discrimination in voting. 

Third, as Americans are honoring the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, our Congress must remember that people died for the right to vote.  They gave their lives because they had to.  Not so long ago, that is what it took for our country to legislate that all men and women really are created equal.  And ongoing conditions of numerous attempts at discrimination in voting in North Carolina show that this is clearly not the time to end preclearance, nor the time to unduly limit it.  This is, instead, the time for Congress to act to stop the floodgates of damage before our country experiences another divisive and questionable election. 

Fourth, without preclearance the people have to depend on the ability to litigate to protect our rights to freedom from discrimination in voting.  The people of North Carolina should not have to depend on costly, protracted, difficult litigation to ensure our most fundamental rights—and our electoral system should not depend on whether or not we can find the means to do that, time and time again.   

Finally, rather than discrimination in voting, everyone should be equal in the ballot box, whether rich or poor, young or old, black, white, Latino, Asian or Native American.  This is precisely the principle that the VRA protects and precisely what Congress must reinstate before more damage is done to our democracy.  Many people died for this right, and as Americans, it is your sacred duty to protect our most fundamental rights by answering the Shelby decision with a comprehensive formula.  We submit this testimony today to show why we need preclearance and a comprehensive formula. We welcome the opportunity for future engagement.  We welcome an open dialogue on amendments that would ensure that North Carolina and other states with egregious histories of discrimination in voting are covered. The attempted restrictions on our voting rights that have occurred in the 365 days since the Shelby decision show the need for vigilant protection of our most fundamental rights.  We applaud you for holding this initial hearing.

 

Thank you for your consideration of these urgent and important issues.

 

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II,

President, North Carolina NAACP 

NAACP National Board Member

 

NC NAACP Vice Presidents:

Ms. Carolyn Coleman, 1st Vice President

Ms. Carolyn McDougal, 2nd Vice President

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, 3rd Vice President

Mr. Courtney Patterson, 4th Vice President

 

Legal Team:

Irving Joyner, Legal Redress Chair

Al McSurely, Legal Redress Committee

Jamie Cole, Legal Redress Coordinator

Special Thanks to Advancement Project

 


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