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Video glitch, Expert testimony mark day 2 of NC voting law trial (Includes first-hand account)

Experts testified on video and from the witness stand today as lawyers for the Plaintiffs continued to build their case for overturning North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act.

J. Morgan Kousser, Professor of History and Social Science at Caltech University, took the stand. Professor Kausser is the author of Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction. He produced a 70-page report analyzing whether three provisions of VIVA were adopted with a discriminatory intent.

Under questioning by Plaintiff’s attorney Allison Riggs, Kousser described the evolution of North Carolina’s voting laws from a brief period of voter empowerment in the 1890s to the violent backlash and voting restrictions of the Jim Crow era.

“In the 1990s this turned around,” Kousser said. “It turned around almost completely.”

By 2004 North Carolina had gone from 48th of the 50 states in African-American voter participation to 11th, Kousser said. He cited new laws permitting “no excuse” absentee ballots, same-day registration and the pre-registration of 16-and-17-year-old voters as the reason.

Kousser said his analysis indicated the dramatic rise in minority voter participation led to a backlash that resulted in the passage of H.B. 589, which became the Voter Information Verification Act.

He called H.B. 589 “racially discriminatory.”

In his cross-examination Defense attorney Butch Bowers said Kousser was “an advocate” for many of the provisions repealed by H.B. 589, such as same-day registration.

Kousser admitted he did support the provisions, but defended his report as “a collection of facts.”

Defense attorney Thomas Farr reminded Kousser that he had predicted African American voter participation would drop sharply in 2014 with the passage of VIVA, but it didn’t.

“I underestimated the backlash effect,” Kousser responded.

During Kousser’s testimony Judge Schroeder asked if Kousser could tell him how many African American voters used same-day registration and early voting from 2000 to 2013. Kousser said the numbers appeared in his report.

Video Glitch Stops Testimony

Dr. Lynne Vernon-Feagans, a fellow at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill, testified via pre-recorded video.

An expert in child poverty issues, Dr. Vernon-Feagans testified about the challenges faced by African Americans in poor rural areas and how those challenges posed barriers to voting. She described families moving frequently, lacking reliable internet or phone service and not having dependable transportation.

Vernon-Feagans’ testimony was cut short when technical problems caused the video feed to freeze and crash.

While Plaintiff’s staff worked to fix the glitch, the court heard testimony from Charles Clotfelter, Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy Studies at Duke University.

Professor Clotfelter specializes in the economics of education. He described past and present achievement gaps between African American and white students and how those gaps could be the result of discriminatory practices in funding and staffing segregated or predominantly minority public schools.

He said previous discriminatory practices had included completely different curricula for segregated African American schools.

In his cross-examination, Defense lawyer Phillip J. Strach pointed out Clotfelter relied solely on data from public schools and had no data from private schools or home-schooled students. He also asked Clotfelter if he had looked at how the data related to African American’s ability to vote.

Clotfelter said he had not.

Video testimony from Dr. Vernon-Feagans resumed briefly in the afternoon, and is expected to be completed tomorrow morning.

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