Barber, other NC panelists at congressional hearing: Restore the Voting Rights Act

Barber, other NC panelists at congressional hearing: Restore the Voting Rights Act

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) talks to an attendee Thursday during a field hearing at Halifax Community College. The hearing was about voting rights to help Congress establish a record to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

It would take eight years to undo what an unconstitutionally-elected GOP super-majority did to voting rights in North Carolina in the past several years, the Rev. William Barber II testified before a House congressional committee last week.

He and several other panelists criticized numerous “voter suppression” laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, including the “monster” voter ID law that was struck down and then partially resurrected in a constitutional amendment last year and measures limiting early voting locations and hours.

“We must have a full restoration of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in this country,” he said.

Barber and five other voting rights experts and advocates were gathered at Halifax Community College in Weldon to testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Elections about restoring the VRA. The Halifax hearing was one of several planned to help make a record to support restoration.

“Hearings like this are critically important in the legislative process,” said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).

Butterfield, who represents Halifax County, gave some history about the majority-Black area, which has a 28 percent poverty rate. He also assured speakers that their testimony would be considered as Congress moves forward in the process to try and restore parts of the VRA.

“We are determined to fix it,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II was one of several panelists Thursday who spoke about voter suppression in North Carolina to U.S. Congressional House members. He said it would take eight years to undo GOP super-majority rule. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 5 of the VRA in 2013, which was known as “pre-clearance” and had required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to seek pre-approval of changes in voting rules that could affect minorities.

Barber told lawmakers that Republican leaders at the North Carolina General Assembly had referred to pre-clearance as a “headache” that had been removed before they pressed ahead with the “monster” voting law — “the worst attack on voting rights we’ve seen since Jim Crow.”

Without pre-clearance, he added, it has taken years of organizing and fighting in court for North Carolinians to see any justice, but still there is a continuing effort to suppress votes.

“We have been battling 2,023 days today — five years, nine months and 23 days since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013,” Barber said.

The other panelists who joined Barber were North Carolina Central University Law School professor Irving Joyner and Democracy NC Executive Director Tomas Lopez.

“As a people, the most important right that we have is the right to vote,” Joyner said. “Voting is of the most fundamental significance of our constitutional structure. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”

Lopez spoke about the state’s recent enacted voter ID law. He highlighted the issues students will have with getting a photo ID to vote using only their student IDs. It imposes challenges of administration such that only 37 of 100 eligible institutions applied to have their IDs considered for the 2020 election — 11 were denied.

“We see as a whole the cumulative effects … the experience in North Carolina across these issues and the set of things we’ll be talking about as a whole this morning speak for Congress to do two things — first is for Congress to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act in a way that’s responsive to the way in which voting rights discrimination happens today,” he said. “The second is for, like legislation, like HR1, ensure that government is playing the role it should be in facilitating real participation in the political process.”

Three more panelists spoke during the second half of the hearing, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Vice-Chair Patricia Timmons-Goodson, North Carolina Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) and Forward Justice Co-Director Caitlin Swain.

“It’s the election fraud as opposed to the voter fraud that’s the real challenge here, and we’ve been chasing this problem that’s not a problem,” Blue told lawmakers.

He said the real cost of voter ID in North Carolina is that it puts a tremendous burden on localities without state funding, and it will lessen access to the ballot.

Swain similarly said voter ID was a solution in search of a problem. She also brought attention to the cost of litigation in the state, both monetarily and to resources.

“Access to the ballot should not be a party-line decision — we all have a stake in returning to democracy and we know what works,” she added.

Goodson shared snippets of public comments from a meeting she helped to facilitate last year in Raleigh about voting rights.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) was the only other member of Congress to attend the hearing. She was outspoken about her desire to restore the VRA and criticized her colleagues who “hid behind the Constitution” in their opposition to it.

“They really don’t care about the Constitution, because if they did, they would make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” she said.

There was a crowd of people at the community college auditorium. They clapped and snapped to show their approval with what the panelists were discussing.

Fleming Peterson, 74, of Halifax County, said there were a lot of important points about voting rights made during the hearing, and that he was pleased with how it went.

“I think more of these need to be held for public education,” he said.

The right to vote was important to him, he added, because it gives him the justice he needs to live.

Terri Lowe Anderson was one of several women at the event dressed in red — they wore the color because it represented their sorority, Delta Sigma Theta (also Fudge’s sorority).

“I’m hopeful that this hearing here today has shed some light — it certainly has for me,” she said. “We have work to do.”