For Rev. John Mendez, longtime activist and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, voting is more than just casting a ballot in a particular election. “I believe that voting is important to the African-American community because it is the only place where powerless people can be powerful,” he said in court papers filed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina as part of a trio of lawsuits challenging the state’s new election law. “It is where individuals who have been excluded and oppressed can find their voice. Voting makes you feel equal to everyone else, which is not the everyday experience for many African-Americans. At its core, voting gives individuals a sense of dignity.” Mendez and others believe that the right to vote, especially for blacks, is under attack in the form of the new election law that Gov. Pat McCrory signed last August.
The law, referred to in lawsuits as House Bill 589 and known officially as the Voter Information Verification Act, includes a number of provisions, the most well-known being the requirement that voters present a photo ID, beginning in 2016. But the law also reduces the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminates same-day voter registration, and prohibits county officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the right county but wrong precinct. In addition, the law gets rid of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, increases the number of poll observers that each political party assigns during an election and allows a registered voter in a county to challenge another voter’s right to cast a ballot.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder will hear arguments on whether to block many of the law’s provisions from taking effect during the Nov. 4 general election in a case that’s being closely watched across North Carolina and throughout the country.