Rosanell Eaton, 94, has been a registered voter for more than 70 years. As a black woman growing up in the Jim Crow South, she had to read the preamble of the U.S. Constitution in order to register to vote. Last year, she was forced to make 10 trips to the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and other state offices so she could vote in this year’s elections. That’s because of North Carolina’s new photo ID requirement, which goes into effect this election cycle. According to attorneys with the N.C. NAACP, the new requirement forced Eaton to spend more than 20 hours to obtain a photo ID. Her name was spelled differently on the other forms of identification that she needed for a photo ID. Eaton’s experience will be included in the evidence that attorneys for the state NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others will present during a weeklong trial starting Monday in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. The trial is the second one in less than a year that challenges North Carolina’s state elections law that was passed in 2013. The first trial was in July and centered on other provisions of the law, including the reduction of days for early voting from 17 to 10 and the elimination of same-day voter registration.
The trial once again puts North Carolina in the national spotlight. Voting-rights activists view North Carolina’s elections law as the most sweeping and restrictive in the country. State Republican legislators pushed the legislation through in 2013 soon after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Section 5 required 40 counties in North Carolina as well as other states and communities to seek federal approval, or pre-clearance, for major changes in election laws. Immediately after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation into law in August 2013, the state NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others filed a federal lawsuit, charging that the law was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine School of Law, said the trial will be watched closely.
“I think this is one of those cases that is being watched nationally not only because North Carolina enacted (sweeping election changes) in a single bill but also because North Carolina is one of the jurisdictions that was subject to special pre-clearance conditions of the Voting Rights Act,” Hasen said.