The second day of the closely watched federal trial on North Carolina’s election law featured testimony from two people, including one from Greensboro, who said their votes did not count in the November 2014 election because of changes that state Republicans made.
The North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the U.S. Department of Justice and others are suing North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory over the 2013 Voter Information Verification Act. The legislation was pushed by a Republican-dominated General Assembly a month after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The changes in the law included eliminating preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, increasing the number of poll observers that each political party can assign and allowing a registered voter in a county to challenge another voter’s right to cast a ballot.
Plaintiffs contend that the law is racially discriminatory and imposes unfair burdens on blacks and Latinos, poor people and the young. Attorneys for North Carolina and McCrory deny the allegations and argue that the law gives everyone an equal opportunity to vote.
William Alexander Kittrell, 20, of Greensboro testified Tuesday that he attempted to cast a ballot during early voting in October 2014 but was told by election officials that his voter registration was not in the system. He had previously lived in Henderson and thought that if he were registered in North Carolina, he could vote anywhere. He had lived in Greensboro a year before going to vote in 2014, he said.
“I was disappointed and frustrated,” Kittrell said when he discovered he couldn’t vote.
Before the 2013 election law was passed, Kittrell would have been able to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time during early voting. But the new election law eliminated same-day voter registration.
The law also eliminated out-of-precinct provisional voting. Terrilin Cunningham of Concord testified that she tried to vote Nov. 4, 2014. Cunningham had moved to North Carolina in 2012 and currently works three different jobs. She is also an ordained minister and has a number of health problems. Cunningham testified that on Nov. 4 she organized her day so that she could make a doctor’s appointment, minister to a sick church member and go shopping at Walmart for items for that same church member.
Then she planned to vote before she went to work. When she got to the polling site, she was told she was in the wrong precinct and that she could cast a provisional ballot. It was only later that she found out that the provisional ballot wouldn’t count because election officials are now prohibited from counting such ballots from voters who are in the right county but wrong precinct.
Cunningham said she lost a little faith in the voting process because of the experience.
“It really caused me pain to feel like I did what I was supposed to do to vote,” she said.
In cross-examinations, state attorneys pointed out that Kittrell never checked to see if he was registered to vote in Greensboro. An attorney representing the state asked Cunningham whether she could have rearranged her schedule to ensure that she could vote in the correct precinct. He also asked whether Cunningham could have rescheduled her appointment with the sick church member. She said she wouldn’t have.
Plaintiffs also called experts, including J. Morgan Kousser, a professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology. Kousser testified that he thought Republican state legislators had racially discriminatory intent in passing the election law.