North Carolina has a long and established history of voter discrimination against blacks and that history would continue under a new state voting law, an expert testified this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. Poll taxes were on the books until the 1920s, said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And literacy tests, in which blacks were sometimes forced to read the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, remain on the books, even though they aren’t enforced, Burden said. Burden was testifying in a hearing on a preliminary injunction to block provisions of North Carolina’s voting law that was passed in 2013. Those provisions include reducing the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminating same-day voter registration and prohibiting county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct.
Burden described a history in which black men after the Civil War were granted the right to vote and did so in high numbers. When voter participation by blacks increased, white leaders changed the law to make voting more difficult for blacks, Burden said.
And for years, voter participation by blacks was low because of obstacles, he said. But starting in 2000, legislators expanded early voting and instituted same-day voter registration, he said. During the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, voter turnout by blacks was about equal to that of whites, he said.