When Sandra Beatty goes somewhere and does something, it’s because she really wants to – five years after losing her vision and both her feet to diabetes, any errand is an ordeal. So when on 31 October, with the help of her 31-year-old daughter, she got out of her first-floor apartment, and climbed into the passenger seat of her friend’s Chevrolet Tahoe, it was because she planned to do one of what she considers her most important tasks: going to vote. It was not until weeks later, when Beatty got a call from the nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice that she learned her ballot had been thrown out. “It hurt. It hurt because I thought I was doing something. I – I thought I was making some kind of progress and doing something. And it didn’t count,” Beatty said. Beatty made that statement in a deposition videotaped in May. It is one of several testimonies included in a lawsuit with national voting rights implications, brought by several voting rights groups and the federal Justice Department against North Carolina’s governor and electoral officials. In the trial, which began on Monday, the plaintiffs argue that the 2013 voting law revisions “unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters”, in violation of the constitution and the landmark civil rights law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is participating in the suit.
When Beatty and her companions went to the polls in October four days before the election, they were, like more than a million voters in North Carolina – a disproportionate number of them African American – taking advantage of a 10-day early voting period, in which they could go to one of a handful of public buildings picked out for the purpose and submit their ballots ahead of time.
That the option existed at all was the result of what had been a slow expansion of voting access in the state over the last hundred years. Then, in 2013, that trend seemed to reverse itself, when North Carolina’s newly Republican-controlled legislature and Republican governor, Pat McCrory, enacted a new law placing a set of new restrictions on voting.