Intent of Voting Rights Law Argued in N.C.

     (CN) – As a trial over controversial changes to North Carolina’s voting rights law opened in the Winston-Salem Federal Court Monday lawyers for the state argued there was no discriminatory intent behind a statute plaintiffs claim disenfranchises black voters.
     The legislation at issue, enacted in 2013, ended same-day voter registration, stopped the counting of out-of-precinct votes, and did away with pre-registration of 17-year-old high school students.
     The plaintiffs in the case claim these and other measures included in the law, such as a dramatic reduction in the number of early voting days, disproportionately affect black and Hispanic voters and are evidence of institutionalized racism in the state.
     They also note the changes were made after the Supreme Court struck down a requirement that election law changes in North Carolina and eight other states in the Deep South — states with a history of racial discrimination — by preapproved by federal officials.
     But Butch Bowers, one of a team of lawyers representing Gov. Pat McCrory, was unequivocal in his opening remarks before U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroader.
     “We will show that there is no discrimination, intentional or otherwise,” he said.
     According to Bowers, the law was changed primarily to reduce the administrative costs associated with elections, and that it is not discriminatory because it applies to all races equally.
     Last year, Judge Schroader refused to impose a preliminary injunction to keep the law from influencing the outcome of the November elections. He was later overruled by a divided Fourth Circuit panel, which said it did see the potential for the disenfranchisement of minority voters.
     Its ruling restored same-day voter registration and reinstated out-of-precinct provisional voting on Voting Rights Act grounds. But it allowed other key provisions of the law, such as reduction of early-voting days and the expansion of allowable voter challengers, will go into effect before the election.
     The Supreme Court granted North Carolina a stay from implementing the Fourth Circuit’s order “pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari.”
     In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, said she agreed with the appeals court’s determination that the two provisions “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise.” “Accordingly, I would retain, pending full adjudication of this case, the preliminary injunction ordered by the Court of Appeals,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.
     The Justice Department, which claims the discriminatory effects of the law were neither accidental nor unforeseen, is seeking to reinstate federal preclearance of election amendments in North Carolina.
     The trial is expected to last four weeks.

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