Voter Suppression Hearings Continue in Winston-Salem

North Carolina state representative Rick Glazier (D-NC44) testified in a Winston-Salem courtroom Tuesday offering a stunning narrative of legislative abuse that hearkens back to the bad old days of Jim Black(D) and his cronies running the North Carolina legislature with an iron fist, a smirk, and more than a pocket full of arrogance. The plaintiffs called several witnesses including Rep. Glazier, Gary Bartlett the former director of the State Board of Elections, George Gilbert former director of the Guilford County BOE, and 93 year-old Rosanell Eaton, who is herself a plaintiff in the case.

defendants
defendants

The testimony of the elections directors (as well as an earlier deposition with Kim Starch, the current director of the State BOE, wife of one of the attorneys for the defense Phil Starch, and a Pat McCrory appointee) centered on the existence of voter fraud in North Carolina which is purportedly systemic enough to warrant legislation to require photo ID’s. Defense attorneys were unable to get these experts to indicate that they have never seen in-person voter fraud. The only voter fraud they were able to speak to involved absentee ballots- the one form of voting that Republicans routinely beat Democrats in and the one form of voting not addressed in HB589.

State attorney Thomas Farr’s exchanges with Gilbert (he was originally appointed to his post by Republicans) were particularly testy as the state’s attorney tried to get Gilbert to engage in a discussion of hypothetical situations in which voter fraud could take place. After one particularly convoluted scenario Gilbert shot back, “I don’t see it as a relevant question.”

“Have you ever had a case of voter impersonation in Guilford County?” Farr asked.

“No. Nothing.” Gilbert answered.

Rep. Glazier’s testimony featured a stunning narrative about how HB 589 came to be rammed through the legislature will a wish -list of voter suppression tactics intact. Rep. Glazier is a 1981 graduate of Wake Forest Law, a Visiting Professor in Criminal Justice at Fayetteville State University, and has been teaching pre-trial law at Campbell University School of Law for 13 years. Rep. Glazier also taught criminal justice as an adjunct professor at FTCC and NC State. He taught four semesters on legislative ethics specifically. Glazier has been elected for 6 terms in the North Carolina house representing part of Cumberland County.

Glazier’s testimony gave the context for the legislation under scrutiny at the hearing. The Democratic minority knew that after the 2012 election cycle some form of Voter ID legislation would be passed by the Republican Supermajority, now buttressed by GOP control of the governor’s mansion. Everyone knew that it was part of the ALEC program, which included model bills outlining how state legislators all over America could write the legislation. Speaker Thom Tillis had promised a group of donors at the 2012 Republican Convention in Tampa that since his North Carolina GOP could dominate across the board, they would pass Voter ID legislation.

With some sort of Voter ID a fait accompli, Democrats in the legislature entered into a good faith effort to have some input on the legislation. Rep. Henry M. “Mickey” Michaux, Jr.(D-NC31) and Rep. Glazier were assigned the task by their caucus and Rep. David Lewis(R-NC53) represented the Republican Supermajority. In his testimony on Tuesday, Glazier described the process that followed as “thoughtful” and “thorough”. Both political parties brought in experts from other states which are attempting to implement Voter ID programs, including Florida and Indiana. An expert was brought in from the Brennan Center for Justice and even Civitas was allowed to testify about their wishes. What emerged was a 15 page bill that only covered the implementation of a Voter ID program. Truly a “Voter ID” bill.

Then came Shelby County v. Holder where the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Once that happened, the North Carolina State Senate dumped in a laundry list of voter suppression provisions that ballooned HB 589 into a 57 page collection of the most restrictive voter suppression regulations since the Jim Crow era. All of this while at the same loosening campaign finance restrictions on politicians. Apparently the Republican Supermajority felt that the voters of North Carolina needed to be regulated, but for politicians to be kept under the government thumb was just too much.

rep. glazier
rep. glazier

Rep. Glazier testified that after the Shelby decision, State Sen. Tom Apodaca said that the Senate was going to put the “full provisions in”. The bill the Senate sent back to the House was 90% different than what had been negotiated prior to Shelby. The added provisions had never been debated or commented on. Without going to committee or conference, the new 57 page voter suppression bill was placed onto the House calendar for immediate consideration. No amendments were allowed and the minority was given 90 to 100 minutes total in order to offer their opinions on a 57 page bill few outside of the Senate had seen. What followed was “The most emotional two hours I have ever spent in public office.” Rep. Glazier told the Court.

According to Glazier’s testimony Rep. Michaux, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who grew up in segregated North Carolina, was in tears. “People felt their life’s work was being rolled back in two hours.” Glazier testified. Those 100 minutes were the only time in modern NC history that every member of the political party in the minority spoke in opposition to a bill. After a roll call of impassioned, 2 and a half minute speeches by every Democrat on the floor, only Rep. Lewis spoke for the GOP. He addressed a couple of points from a legal pad while the other Republican law makers kept silent. Many were not even listening to the proceedings and were doing other things. “It was clear to me that directions were given that only one person speak.”

Glazier said that after the essentially one-sided debate,  HB 589 was passed immediately by a straight party vote. He stated that a Republican friend of his then approached him apologizing for what had just happened. “I told him ‘We don’t need to talk anymore this evening because I might say something I can’t take back.’” Glazier testified.

The Representative was cross-examined by the husband of NC Board of Elections Director Kim Starch, sometime Civitas employee, and McCrory attorney, Phil Starch. The attorney had no luck tripping Glazier up and spent most of his questions trying to make an argument centered around the idea that because discredited and indicted former Democratic Speaker of the NC House Jim Black played fast and loose with the rules then it was ok for the Republicans to do so now. At no point, however, was Starch able to find an incident even close to what occurred over HB 589 in 2013.

Glazier described the process as “The most atypical process I have ever seen… I can’t think of another word, but pure ambush.”

The most personal and emotionally compelling testimony came from Ms. Rosanell Eaton. “I’m 93 years old.” she declared upon taking the stand. Born in Louisburg, North Carolina located in Franklin County, Ms. Eaton is a 65 year member in good standing of the NCNAACP and has been volunteering as a poll observer, worker, and judge since the 1960’s.

rosanell eaton
rosanell eaton

In a strong voice that only occasionally wavered, Ms. Eaton told an attentive and obviously moved Judge Thomas D. Schroeder that at the age of 19 (1939) she had her mother go with her the two hours it took to walk to the Franklin County courthouse to register to vote. Once she was there she testified that at first she was greeted with amusement and skepticism… then the man who would register her to vote tried to completely strip her of her dignity and make her perform parlor tricks and jump through hoops in an obvious effort to get her to decide that exercising her voting rights as a citizen was too onerous for an African American in the Jim Crow South. He made Ms. Eaton stand facing a wall with her hands down by her sides as if she were standing at attention. Then, not taking her eyes off of the wall, she was forced to recite the preamble to the United States Constitution. The pain was still clear, as is her pride. Not only did she pass that test, she has voted ever since.

Rosanell Eaton’s testimony may have been the most important of the day, putting into sharp relief exactly how petty and juvenile people will get in their efforts to suppress the vote of a human being who might not cast their ballot for the status quo.

The defense chose not to cross examine Ms. Eaton.

 

Hearings will continue, at least, through Thursday. You can read more context and follow the first day of hearings on CCD HERE.