July 14, 2015

There wasn't a peep out of any of the cable channels, but this trial is a HUGE thing.

It began with a Moral Monday march in Winston-Salem, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber. Inside the courtroom, lawyers were revving up.

North Carolina is being sued over the draconian voting restrictions voted in by the Republican legislature before the 2014 election.

The state, in its opening comments, said that the measures were adopted to enhance voter confidence and achieve administrative savings, and that they were not discriminatory because they affected all races equally.

The state’s lawyers also accused the plaintiffs of making emotional appeals to past racial conflicts, like the refrain of the state branch of the N.A.A.C.P. in the weeks leading up to the trial that “This is our Selma.”

“What is the dastardly thing North Carolina has done?” asked Thomas A. Farr, a private lawyer who is defending the state. The state, he said, has created election conditions that are common across the country. Some other states, like New York, do not have early voting, same-day voting or out-of-precinct voting, he noted.

But it is the particular conditions and their context in North Carolina that are at issue, say many legal experts.

“The law teaches it is the impact that matters — an impact that is linked to social and historical conditions — not whether a law explicitly says African-American or Latinos are not allowed to vote,” Ms. Hair said.

After opening statements, the plaintiffs called their first witnesses — several individuals who had tried to vote in 2014 but were unsuccessful because of the rules changes. One of them, Gwendolyn Farrington of Durham, said that because of past moves she had kept her mother’s house, distant from where she lives now, as a mailing address.

In the fall of 2014, she said, she was working 12 hours a day, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., in an auto parts factory. She tried voting after work, before picking up her two sons, at the polling place nearest to her job, but was told she would have to travel across town or fill out a provisional ballot.

What she did not realize, she said, was that the ballot, under the new law, would not be counted.

“This is unfair,” she told the court.

Republicans, not to be ignored, held a press conference during the Moral Monday march, accusing labor unions outside the state of funding the protesters, a charge they deny. Because surely black people in North Carolina don't really care about their voting rights enough to march? Get with it, Republicans.

Where was our national media on this? Nowhere to be seen, and yet it is probably one of the most significant trials of the decade, particularly for voters who have been subjected to unfair and race-based voting restrictions.

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