At an Alpha Kappa Alpha town hall meeting Sunday, a panel of political, education and civil rights leaders warned that voting rights in the United States are under attack by those on the extreme political right. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins)

Rev. William Barber

If a federal judge allows North Carolina’s new voting law to stand, residents in other states will soon see similar restriction, the Rev. William Barber said Sunday while speaking at a town hall meeting at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s biennial convention in Charlotte.

“We have the worst voter suppression law in the country, and it’s heading your way if we don’t stop it here,” Barber told the audience of several hundred people, most of them women.

Barber, president of the state NAACP and leader of the “Moral Monday” movement, was one of several panelists who warned that voting rights in the United States are under attack by those on the extreme political right.

Barber called the nationwide movement “the worst attack on voting rights since Jim Crow.”

Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell warned the crowd that the current politically divided Congress would not step in to address the issue.

“If I could leave one clear message, that clear message would be, ‘Don’t count on Congress,’” she said. “The reality is, we have a Congress that is so partisan, that is so caught up in taking down our president at all costs that, they’re not willing to act.”

Instead, Sewell called for a groundswell among voters, “where all struggle begins and originates.”

“Laws come into being because people on the ground demand it,” she said.

The panelists, which included Congressman G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, said the attack on voting rights escalated after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Southern states to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. The court said the Section 5 restriction was based on outdated data and ruled it unconstitutional.

“Southern states despise, they detest, Section 5, because they feel it is an intrusion on their sovereignty,” Butterfield said Sunday. “And so for the last 40 years, Southern states have been in rebellion against Section 5.”

Barber said the battle over voting rights is a “battle for the soul of this nation.”

The real goal of those on the extreme right, he said, is to thwart the growing political clout of African Americans, Latinos, unionized workers, women, gays, and other political progressives.

“The only way they can win (at the polls) is cheat,” he said. That’s the only way extremism can win. It cannot win a moral critique, and it cannot win the total populist of America voters, and that’s why we must fight, and that’s why, here in North Carolina, we are in federal court…”

Last week in Winston-Salem, the federal government, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters and other organizations asked a federal judge to strike down North Carolina’s controversial new voter law, arguing that it discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and voters younger than 25.

The law was passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. In addition to requiring that voters present a photo ID, beginning in 2016, it also reduces the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting and prohibits county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the right county but the wrong precinct.

In total, Barber said, the law would change at least 40 aspects of how North Carolina residents register and cast ballots.

“This is not a political fight,” he said. “It is a moral fight… It’s a fight we can’t lose. It’s a fight we have to lose.”

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