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North Carolina Voting Rights Trial Could Expose Discrimination
Monday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, lawyers clashed in a federal courtroom battle expected to last for weeks and affect millions of voters. At the center of the case is the accusation by the U.S. Justice Department, along with several other groups, that the state of North Carolina knowingly sought to discourage and disparage minority voters when it eliminated several fairly recently enacted voting acts. Detailing the situation, NPR reports that:
For decades in the state, black voter turnout lagged far behind white turnout. Then, in 2000, state lawmakers opened up an early voting period. In 2005, they said voters could cast ballots outside their assigned precinct. In 2007, they enabled same-day registration. After those changes, attorney Allison Riggs, representing the League of Women Voters, says – black voter registration and turnout surged. “They had their intended effect of evening the playing field in the state, and the Legislature yanked that away,” she says.
A 2013 Supreme Court decision updated parts of the 1965 Voters Rights Act, particularly the part that gave the Department of Justice oversight over voting in areas that have historically discriminated based on race. Per a report, North Carolina’s legislature subsequently passed several laws that restricted that surge in minority voter growth, including tightening photo identification requirements and restricting early voting and same-day registration. Another provision eliminated a program that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they would be automatically registered to vote at 18.
While the state maintains that the changes to the laws were necessary, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking with NPR, notes “It is especially troubling that the law would significantly narrow the early voting window that enabled hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, including a disproportionately large number of minority voters, to cast ballots.â€
President Obama Takes Step To Reform Criminal Justice System
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama commuted or reduced the sentences of 46 prisoners serving time for drug and drug related offenses. As part of an ongoing attempt to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, President Obama said this was just one of many measures, which include reviewing sentencing laws and reducing punishments for non-violent crimes. In a copy of the letter posted by the White House on Monday, President Obama wrote to each of the newly commuted individuals –
“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. Perhaps even you are unsure of how you will adjust to your new circumstances. But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices.”
In his video statement, President Obama said of the United States, “I believe that at its heart America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.â€
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