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.
Those practices included 17 days of early voting, same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting. North Carolina’s election law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act, was seen by opponents as a direct attack on the Voting Rights Act, which was signed on Aug. 6, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The N.C. NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the U.S. Department of Justice and other groups filed a lawsuit in 2013, alleging the law disproportionately made it harder for blacks, Hispanics, poor people and young people to register and vote. They also alleged that state Republican legislators had intentionally passed the law to suppress minority votes.