Many find politics frustrating because problems that seemed to be solved in one generation crop up again years or decades later. The good thing about democracy is that there are no permanent defeats. The hard part is that some victories have to be won over and over. And so it is with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a monument to what can be achieved when grass-roots activism is harnessed to presidential and legislative leadership. Ending discrimination at the ballot box was a way of underwriting the achievements of the Civil Rights Act passed a year earlier by granting African Americans new and real power to which they had always been constitutionally entitled. “The results were almost unimaginable in 1965,” writes Ari Berman in “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” his timely book published this month. … In fact, Obama’s election called forth a far more sophisticated approach to restricting voting. Republicans closely examined how Obama’s political organization had turned out large numbers of young African Americans who had not voted before. Their participation was facilitated by early voting, and particularly Sunday voting.
North Carolina: Court documents: Legal challenge to voter ID could be settled | Winston-Salem Journal
North Carolina’s voter ID law may not go to trial after all, according to court documents filed Monday. The recent federal trial on North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act that ended about two weeks ago did not deal with the state’s photo ID requirement that goes into effect in 2016. It only dealt with other provisions of the law, which reduced the early voting period, eliminated same-day voter registration, prohibited county election officials from counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct but correct county, and abolished preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that the legal challenge to the photo ID requirement would be dealt with later. Schroeder’s decision came after state Republican legislators approved an amendment easing the photo ID requirement. The amendment allows voters without photo ID to sign a declaration saying they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID and also enables voters to use a photo ID that has expired as long as it has not been more than four years. State Republican leaders proposed the changes less than a month before the federal trial was to start.
A 120-mile round trip separates voters in Lame Deer from voting early and registering late, and Lame Deer is among the closest places on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to Forsyth, the seat of Rosebud County. But the asphalt on Montana Highway 39 is just one way to measure the distance. “This journey has geographical and historical distances,” said Tom Rodgers, a tribal issues activist, member of the Blackfeet Nation and Jack Abramoff whistleblower. As South Carolina debates Confederate symbols, Rodgers thinks of symbols in Montana that also tell a story. “Names matter. History matters,” he said. “We have a county seat named after a man who was horribly anti-Native American, a man who killed 300 men, women and children at Wounded Knee. The fact that it hasn’t been remedied is wrong, wrong, wrong.”
North Carolina: Federal trial in Winston-Salem could determine meaning of Voting Rights Act | Winston-Salem Journal
The past and the present merged into one during a three-week federal trial on North Carolina’s election law that ended just a week before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On July 13, the first day of the trial, the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, told a crowd of at least 3,500 people gathered in Corpening Plaza that “this is our Selma,” referring to the 1965 civil rights battles in Selma, Ala. For many civil rights activists like Barber, state Republican legislators were seeking to roll back the gains of that struggle by pushing through House Bill 589, which became law in 2013 and either curtailed or eliminated voting practices that blacks have disproportionately used.
For the first 48 years of its existence,the Voting Rights Act — signed by President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this week — was one of the most popular and effective civil rights laws in American history. Centuries of slavery, segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination had kept African-Americans from having any real voice in the nation’s politics. Under the aggressive new law, black voter registration and turnout soared, as did the number of black elected officials. Recognizing its success, Congress repeatedly reaffirmed the act and expanded its protections. The last time, in 2006, overwhelming majorities in both houses extended the law for another 25 years. But only seven years later, in 2013, five Supreme Court justices elbowed in andconcluded, on scant evidence, that there was no longer a need for the law’s most powerful tool; the Voting Rights Act, they claimed, had done its job.
A coalition of labor unions, women and minority groups, and civil rights organizations are urging Gov. Chris Christie to a sign what they call a groundbreaking piece of legislation sitting on his desk. The Democratic-controlled state Legislature sent the “Democracy Act,” a sweeping overhaul of New Jersey’s voting laws, to the Republican governor last month — though Democratic leaders aren’t confident he’ll approve it. But the coalition of 35 groups sent a letter to Christie this week stressing that the measure would make it easier for more New Jersey residents to cast ballots and would bring the state’s “voting practices into the 21st century.”
Suppose a state adopts a traditional approach to voting – only one day on which voters can cast their ballots at polling places, with limited opportunities for absentee voting. Yet legislators in this state are intrigued by innovations in other states, such as Oregon’s system of voting by mail or Sunday voting, which allows churches to organize “souls to the polls” programs that shepherd parishioners directly from services to a polling place. If this hypothetical state adopts such alternative methods but then finds them unduly expensive or susceptible to fraud, can it repeal them? On first blush, the answer seems obvious: What the legislature can do it can undo. But what if there is evidence that voting by mail or Sunday voting results in a higher turnout of racial minorities? Would doing away with those methods violate the federal Voting Rights Act?
Editorials: Why Republicans Should Worry About Restrictive Voting Laws | Jim Rutenberg/The New York Times
When The Times released its joint poll with CBS on race last week, its most eye-catching finding was that a majority of Americans have a negative view of race relations, a sharp reversal of expectations following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. But deeper in the results was a telling data point relating to the recent proliferation of state laws and policies having to do with access to voting, the topic of the cover story I wrote for this week’s magazine. One question in the poll asked respondents whether they believed laws and policies that restrict absentee and early voting — overwhelmingly championed by Republicans — were devised to save money or to make it harder for minorities to vote. Nearly 80 percent of the black respondents who had an opinion on the new voting rules said they were devised to make it harder for minorities to vote; only about 20 percent of them said the changes were devised to save money. Among whites who had an opinion on the new rules and regulations, the split was fairly even: 45 percent said the rules were to save money, while 46 percent said they were to make it harder for minorities to vote. (Whites were more likely than blacks to say they had not heard enough to have an opinion, at 53 percent compared with 40 percent.)
A federal trial that may help shape voting rights protections across the country in the 2016 elections and beyond came to a close here Friday, with the Department of Justice and civil rights groups charging that North Carolina deliberately sought to suppress black voting with a new election law, while the state defended its right to set election rules and said it treated all races equally. “African-Americans were on the verge of having real influence in the state of North Carolina,” Bert Russ, a lawyer with the Justice Department, said of the expanded voting procedures that were curtailed in a Republican-sponsored 2013 law. “The legislature stepped in and took away” the methods that drove this progress, he said, in “a troubling mixture of race and politics.” But a lawyer for the state argued that North Carolina had the right to set its election policies, and that the black voter turnout in 2014, under the new rules, was actually higher than before. The lawyer, Thomas A. Farr, accused the plaintiffs of trying to protect “practices that their political allies prefer.”
North Carolina: Historic federal trial on voting rights ends; judge to issue decision later this year | Winston-Salem Journal
A federal trial regarding North Carolina’s election law — one that civil-rights activists call the most sweeping and restrictive in the country — ended late Friday afternoon, a week before the 50th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. But U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s decision won’t come down anytime soon. It could be at least a month before he renders a ruling on whether House Bill 589 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. For three weeks in a Winston-Salem federal courtroom, North Carolina residents and national experts testified about the impact of House Bill 589, which became law in 2013. The law eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting, reduced the days of early voting from 17 to 10 and got rid of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds. … North Carolina’s law also includes voter ID, which was not a part of the federal trial. But many also point out that North Carolina’s is the most sweeping and most comprehensive election law change in years.