As Voting Rights Trial Ends, Another GOP Challenge Looms

As Voting Rights Trial Ends, Another GOP Challenge Looms

11:26am Aug 03, 2015
Watauga voters cast ballots during the 2014 election.
WFDD File Photo by Paul Garber

Both sides wrapped up their final arguments Friday in a federal voting trial in Winston-Salem after three weeks of testimony. It challenges sweeping changes to the state’s voting law that critics say intentionally targets practices favored by minority and young voters.

It will be several weeks before a ruling is made. In the meantime, though, another showdown is looming for the GOP-led legislature also based on how minorities fare in elections.

Later this month the state Supreme Court will hear arguments that congressional districts drawn by the General Assembly following the GOP takeover in 2011 are unfair.

The court upheld the districts late last year. But in April the U.S. Supreme Court tossed that decision. At issue is whether the districts pack too many blacks in too few districts.

The controversial districts were drawn two years before the changes to the election law, which among other changes reduced early voting from 17 to ten days and eliminated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

The voting-rights case is now in the hands of the U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who will decide whether the law should be repealed, changed or left as is.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs – including the NAACP and the US Department of Justice – want changes to the law passed two years ago to be thrown out completely. But during closing arguments, Judge Schroeder repeatedly asked about what might happen if he were to order some changes but not a complete overhaul of the law. For example, he asked what would happen if there were 15 days of early voting instead of 17.

“There has to be some way to measure it,” he says. “There has to be some yardstick to reassure equal opportunity.”

Schroeder also played Devil’s advocate during the state’s closing argument. Attorneys for the state – the defendants in the case – say what the plaintiffs are asking is unprecedented. The say the fact that minority voting increased in 2014 – after portions of the law were put in place – show that minorities weren’t harmed by the law.

Schroeder says he believes the government should make voting as easy as possible, and he asked the defendants to explain why they made the changes when the existing laws were popular with voters. 

“To reduce it seems counter-intuitive,” he says.

They replied the law made voting laws more consistent between counties.

It’s not clear when Schroeder will make a decision in the case. He’s given both sides two more weeks to turn in any additional paperwork I the case, and said it would be some time after that when he makes a ruling.

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