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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/22/13

Guests: Jon Hawley, G.K. Butterfield, Montravias King

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. It`s a beautiful night here. Thank you, my friend. I really appreciate it. Thanks to you at home for staying with us the next hour. Where we are, bringing you this show this hour, from not our usual home base, with way more mosquitoes than are usually ever on my face. Here`s why we`re on the road: The day before the `08 presidential election, the morning of the day before the election, presidential candidate Barack Obama that day got a phone call in the morning, telling him that his grandmother had just died. She had died at the apartment in Hawaii where he had lived with her for a time when he was a boy. He had been raised partially by his grandparents, by his mother`s parents. He was very close to his grandparents. Very close to his grandmother. This was the day before the presidential election in 2008 that she died. President Obama took time that day to grieve on his own, then that night, he came to North Carolina. Just hours before the polls were due to open across the country, President Obama did one last rally, a huge one, 25,000 people in the rain at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. He talked about his grandmother that night. He said, "She`s gone home. She died peacefully in her sleep with my sister at her side." He said, "I`m not going to talk about her too long, because it is hard for me to talk about." And so, with just hours to go until Election Day, presidential candidate Barack Obama, that night before the election in 2008, he stood in the rain in Charlotte and he cried during his speech. And he gave his closing argument for why he should be president of the United States. And it was a very powerful moment because of that raw, human emotion, but it was also a powerful political moment because here it was the night before a presidential election and it is a big deal that the Democratic presidential candidate is making his closing argument to the nation from the South. And he could afford to do that because some of the South was within reach for him, and for Democrats on Election Day. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After decades of broken politics in Washington, after eight years of failed policies from George W. Bush, you don`t need to boo, you just need -- you just need to vote. (CHEERS) After 21 months of a campaign that has taken us from the rocky coasts of Maine, to the sunshine of California, we are one day away from changing America. One day. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The next day, Barack Obama went on to win Florida. He went on to win Virginia. And he went on to win North Carolina. A Democrat won in North Carolina. Bill Clinton did not win North Carolina either time. But Barack Obama did. He did, just barely. He won by a little more than 14,000 votes. That was the first time a Democrat had carried North Carolina in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter. The Obama campaign thought the state of North Carolina was within reach. They pumped $15 million into the state to try to win it and they won it. They won on the strength of some key voting groups in the state. For example, voters 29 and younger voted for Barack Obama 74 percent to 26 percent. Look at the African-American vote in North Carolina. Black voters in the state went for Barack Obama 95 percent to 5 percent. Turnout in the `08 presidential election was up across the country. That, of course, was a big historic election. It drew lots and lots of attention. But turnout in North Carolina was way up. It was the largest increase in turnout anywhere in the country between the `04 election and `08 election was in North Carolina. And it was not just a flash in the pan for that one election. North Carolina had been on its way up for years at that point. It had been on its way up from the very, very bottom, because back in the early 1990s, North Carolina was at the very bottom. The state ranked 47th in voter participation, 47th out of 50. But the state started making an effort to turn that around and by the 2000 presidential election, North Carolina had risen from 47th in the nation to 34th in the nation in terms of turnout. And then by 2008, they`d gone from 34th in the nation, up to 21st in the nation. And then in the last election by 2012, North Carolina had risen all the way up to 11th in the country in terms of voter turnout, from 47th to 11th. North Carolina cracked the code when it came to voting. North Carolina went from third worst in the nation to knocking on the door of the top 10. And they did it by making voting easier to do. They implemented early voting in 2000. They implemented same-day voter registration in 2008. North Carolina was a voting success story, until it wasn`t. All of those measures to improve voter participation in North Carolina were signed into law by Democratic governors. But in 2010, Republicans had a plan to turn all that around. In the 2010 midterm elections, the elections that took place two years into President Obama`s first term, Republicans basically ran the table, right? I mean, they painted the country red. And the opposition party, the party that`s not in the White House always does well in the midterms. That`s always the case. But in 2010, the opposition did spectacularly. Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives in Washington. They picked up an astonishing 63 seats in the House. Republicans that year also picked up six seats in the United States Senate. Whether Republicans really cleaned up in 2010 was in the states. That year, Republicans won 680 seats in state legislatures across the country. They took control of more legislative seats in the states than at any point since 1928. That was what happened that year and it happened everywhere. But where it really, really happened was in North Carolina. The Republican plan was to take over North Carolina state legislature basically by brute political force. What they added to the national mix in North Carolina was flooding the state with outside money. North Carolina saw an unprecedented flood of money into state legislated races in 2010. Not money going directly to candidates. It was money going to the supposedly independent groups that were, in fact, very obviously partisan groups. For the first time in anybody`s memory, local Democratic legislators who had held their seats forever basically were suddenly facing an onslaught of cash from outside groups with all sorts of generic sounding names like real Jobs N.C. and Civitas Action -- those groups were helping the Republican side. The truly fascinating thing was that almost all of the outside morning going to fund all of those anodyninely (ph) named different groups. Almost all of money was coming from one guy. His name is Art. Art Pope. He`s a multimillionaire conservative activist who inherited an empire of discount stores from his dad. Art Pope and his family have given so much money to Republican causes in state of North Carolina over the years that the party`s state headquarters building is named after them. Seriously. And in 2010, Art Pope and his family foundation and his business, they zeroed in specifically on the North Carolina state legislature. Three quarters of all the outside money that flooded into North Carolina races that year came from accounts linked to this one guy, this one zillion their businessman. Millions and millions and millions of dollars directed by this one guy, and it worked. Of the 22 legislative races that were targeted by Art Pope that year, Republicans took 18 of them, enough to turn the statehouse not just red, but completely red for the first time since just after the civil war. Before the 2010 elections, the North Carolina state legislature looked like this. Democrats controlled both houses by pretty good margins. After election night 2010, it looked like this. Boink. North Carolina turned bright red. I mean, the whole country went red in 2010, but North Carolina`s red tide was like no other state. And in this most recent election, in 2012, Republicans increased their margins. They gained a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature. And just for good measure, a Republican got the governor`s mansion as well. For the first time since 1870, Republicans had total control in North Carolina. They controlled both houses of the legislature, and the governor`s mansion. And they saw that as sufficient occasion to go absolutely hog wild. All of this pent-up stuff, they`d always wanted to do. And who knew they wanted to do it. It turns out North Carolina Republicans wanted to establish a state religion. That one came up right away. There was also the bill to ban Sharia law in the state because apparently that was right around the corner here. They passed some of the most extreme abortion measures anywhere in the country. North Carolina Republicans passed a law allowing you to hunt with a silencer on your gun, because venison tastes better when the deer is not surprised -- or something. I don`t know. When it came to the state`s budget, North Carolina Republicans forced through deep enough cuts to public education, to scare everybody else in the country. They passed a tax reform bill that slashes the corporate tax rate, that eliminates the e state tax for the very richest people in the state, that shifts more of the tax burden in the state on to the poor and on to the middle class. The guy who`s now in charge of those sorts of things in North Carolina, the state`s budget director, is our friend, Art. None other than the multimillionaire Republican benefactor who helped make all of this possible. Art Pope after essentially buying the government that he wanted, Art Pope now is the government. Now, in terms of insulating themselves from the political costs of doing stuff like this and going this fast, there were things that could be done about that, too. As I said, the 2010 midterm elections were great for Republicans in North Carolina because that was a census year. Their victories that year gave Republicans a chance to redraw the congressional districts in the state to their advantage. So, in the 2012 election this past November, get this. Most North Carolina voters when they voted, November 2012, 51 percent of North Carolina voters voted that they wanted a Democrat to represent them in Congress. Democratic candidates got 81,000 more votes than Republican candidates did for Congress in North Carolina in 2012. Of the 13 congressional seats in the state, Republicans took nine of them. What? Thank you, redistricting. So gerrymandering districts like that, you know, it works for a while. That can take you pretty far. We only have a census year every ten years, right? But the bigger problem is the pesky problem of turnout. I mean, voter turnout that`s getting this much better, this faster, that`s not good for the Republican Party. They count on low turnout elections to lock up their gains. Voter turnout getting that good that fast, that is not good. And the most potent part is the minority vote in the state. I mean, the problem is young people, too. Really, really the most potent part of that problem is the minority vote for Republicans. So, the last two days of the legislative session in North Carolina this year were devoted to a complete overhaul of voting rights in the state. And that is why we are here. That is why we are here in beautiful Elizabeth City, North Carolina, right now -- the gateway to the outer banks, tucked up into the northeastern corner of the state, because here it is clear as day, here it is starting in some ways, and here it is a tale of two schools. I spent most of the day today at Elizabeth City State University where they have 2,500 students, give or take. Elizabeth City state is a historically black college. It`s still mostly African-American. The university named after Elizabeth City is a big part of this relatively small town. But Elizabeth City does have another four-year school here. The other one is called Mid-Atlantic Christian University, used to be called Roanoke Bible. It`s a much smaller school. It`s private, religious, mostly a white school. Like the historically black school across town, Mid-Atlantic Christian is a civic-minded place. Every year, they hold a voter registration drive so students can register to vote from school and the school shuttles them downtown to polling places. It`s a priority for the school. They take it seriously. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEN GREENE, MACU VP FOR STUDENT SERVICES: I think it`s important for us to be involved with our local community, as well as national issues when we have presidential elections. So, we`re responsible as citizens to be a part of what`s going on in the world around us. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: In his seven years at Mid-Atlantic Christian, Vice President Ken Greene says he`s never known a student having a problem in registering to vote or voting for the school. It`s not a problem in Atlantic Christian. But over across town, at Elizabeth City State, students who try to vote from that school, they have been running into problems and kind of big ones. In 2007, a local Republican challenged the voting rights of 18 students at Elizabeth City State, at the historically black college. He said they didn`t really live at the school. All of those challenges failed. Then, in November 2012, four students who voted in that election got their votes challenged, too. Then a few months later, in April 2013, there were so many challenges to Elizabeth City State voters that the hearing lasted for hours. They challenged 60 voters that day, almost all of them students, at this mostly black college. Fifty-six students had their names struck from the voting rolls in that round. And, you know, you might say, why is this one school getting all these challenges while the other school in town says no problem? We`re voting, we`re never getting challenged and it`s all OK. Is it because one school is mostly black and the other one is mostly white? Is it because one school is bigger? Because one school is more conservative? Or is it just because of this guy? All those challenges to the student voters at the local historically black college were brought by one guy. His name is Pete Gilbert. He`s the one who`s on the right. There you go, sitting at the table. He`s going through students` names, student name after student name. If you have been registered to vote as an Elizabeth City State University student in recent years, then an encounter with Pete Gilbert has been a very real possibility for you. Mr. Gilbert is the chairman of the local county Republican Party. He lives in the same city ward that includes this historically black, mostly African-American school. He says he challenges voters from that school specifically because that is his home precinct. Elizabeth City State is on his turf. In North Carolina, as that local Republican has been trying to kick students off the rolls, he`s relied on part of the law that lets you challenge people who vote in the same precinct as yours. The law also would have allowed him to challenge the student voters at the other school at the mostly white school across town, just not during an election. If he`d wanted to make a big deal out of questioning the Christian school student voters, too, he very easily could have done that, but he just didn`t. That county Republican chairman has stayed focused on his own turf and on the black school in town. But whatever choices Pete Gilbert made as he went along for whatever reasons he made them, his turf now has just gotten much, much bigger. He`s now challenging the right of this Elizabeth City State student to run for city council. He says because Montravias King is a student, he can`t really live in Elizabeth City so he can`t run for office here. This new challenge happened this month here at the county board of elections. Actually it happened right here in this exact room. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: White people sat on one side, black people sat on the other? JOHN HAWLEY, ELIZABETH CITY DAILY ADVANCE: Yes. Mr. Gilbert does have some black supporters in the community, but this is still an issue that`s been triggering a lot of racial tension in the community. If I could, just, the way it played out over the better part of six or seven hours is Mr. King and his attorney were here. Mr. Gilbert was there with his supporters, including Mrs. Myrick, who was a silent observer during the hearing. MADDOW: Who`s Mrs. Myrick? HAWLEY: With the Civitas Institute. MADDOW: Which is a conservative think tank. HAWLEY: Yes. They said her present was for her personal edification, I have nothing to refute that one way or the other. MADDOW: But she sat with Mr. Gilbert, the Republican Party chairman when he was issuing the challenge, essentially? HAWLEY: Yes, he`s had a lot of practice at this. The challenges were basically the same sort of arguments that he`s been using over the last couple of years. So, he certainly didn`t need her assistance for this. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: This is a really interesting detail. The woman from Art Pope`s think tank, the Civitas Institute, was in town that day here in Elizabeth City as a silent observer to the challenge of this student to be able to run for office here. What was she there to see? She was not there to help. The local Republican Party chairman knows how to make these challenges. He`s been doing it for years. He doesn`t need any help from anybody. She`s not there to help. She`s there to learn? She there to see how this is done? How this might be done in the rest of the state? Because this is what she saw that day -- across North Carolina, Republicans, have just gained control of all the boards of elections for the first time in 20 years. Big state elections board, all the county boards, Republican control all them because there`s a Republican who holds the governorship. The new Republican majority in the local board here in this case didn`t question whether Montravias King has lived at school for four years. That was not the issue. What they questioned was whether living at school is enough to make you a resident and they said it is not. And in making that decision, they accepted a legal framework for disqualifying students from voting in local elections. That`s how reporter John Hawley put it. He`s talking there about students at the black school in Elizabeth City. This development could very well affect every student voter, every college, in the state. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If that precedent was set, if what happened here in this room stands at the state level, the precedent is set that any full-time student in North Carolina can`t vote at school? HAWLEY: It would certainly seem that way. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If Montravias King thought it would be hard enough running for local office, imagine what the pressure is like now -- now that he has to win this case or beat the precedent. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: If the residency challenges are successful against you, there`s no reason why the exact same residency challenge wouldn`t be successful against every on-campus student at every college in North Carolina. MONTRAVIAS KING: Yes. MADDOW: If you lose this case, it`s going to be a big deal. KING: It really is. MADDOW: No pressure. (LAUGHTER) KING: It really is. Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: No pressure. Also merging while we`re having this conversation. The pressure is on in North Carolina for real. We spoke with Pete Gilbert this week, the Republican county chairman here, asked him to sit down with us for an interview. He did not want to talk about us. But what we wanted to know is whether he still intends to take this show on the road as he has said, about challenging student voting rights across North Carolina now that his plans are receiving so much national attention. Does he still want to take this show on the road and do this all across the state? He tells us he`s waiting for Montravias King`s appeal to the state board of election. At the state board of elections the new Republican chair there is urging the newly Republican local boards to cool it. Try to get along with everybody. He also says they`re independent and they`re appointed by the governor and then left to fly. And if the county Republican chairman, if the Pete Gilberts of the state decide to go for it, North Carolina Republicans have made that much, much easier. Under North Carolina`s old elections law, you could only challenge a voter`s eligibility to vote, you could only challenge somebody`s residency, registration if that person lived in the same county. Under the law signed by Governor McCrory this month, any voter, anywhere in the state can go anywhere in the state and challenge the registration of any other voter. You want to block all the students from voting at your local historically black college? Or the college where maybe they just vote too liberal? Give it a go. The field is now wide open. Give it a try. Worked here. At least it`s worked here so far. Supporters of voting rights are now suing I federal court over that part of the new law. But the other defense of voting rights is just beginning to happen right here in Elizabeth City and that is what we came here today to see. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LESLIE NORTMAN, ECSU STUDENT: I`ve learned one thing, but the bravery and the foolishness of the youth is not something to be toyed with. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So the auditorium is used by the elections board, but it`s kind of next door? HAWLEY: Yes. Traditionally, when the challenge hearings are held, there`s just not enough room in the board of elections office. So they borrow the space that the American Red Cross generally offers to them. MADDOW: Can we go in? HAWLEY: Yes, please. Over the better part of six or seven hours, this is where the hearing was held. MADDOW: This is where the hearing was held where they challenged Montravias` residency whether he could run? HAWLEY: Yes, this is also where the April challenges against ECSU students were held. One of the first things you notice about the room was that it was divided along black and white lines. Part of that is local personalities, of course, people just not getting along with each other. But it was a very stark thing that people noticed. MADDOW: Just people sat -- white people sat on one side, black people sat on the other? HAWLEY: Yes. Mr. Gilbert does have black supporters in the community, but this is an issue triggering racial tension in the community. Usually they`re humdrum, boring meetings as you might expect. But, of course, they`ve been garnering a lot more interest as of late. I`m going to try to make sure to go to all of them from now on. MADDOW: Please do. Please do. HAWLEY: Yes. MADDOW: We`re counting on it. The grounds on which this seems like an important national story, and not just a fascinating local drama, is the extent to which this could be a precedent. I mean, if at the board of elections level, here in Elizabeth City, they`re saying, you know what, if you live on campus, you don`t live here, you don`t live in this town. You may be at Elizabeth City State University, but you are not in Elizabeth City for the purpose of voting. If that is not just alleged, but confirmed by the board of elections, and, indeed, if that is confirmed by the state board of elections which they`re appealing to, that has the effect, that would have the effect, if it`s precedent, of saying that no full-time student living on campus anywhere in North Carolina has the right to vote there. Wouldn`t it? HAWLEY: That would certainly set up the argument. To be clear with Mr. King`s case, his candidacy was the only issue explicitly debated to date. MADDOW: But the criteria for being allowed to get your name on the ballot to run and the criteria to vote are the same criteria. HAWLEY: Yes, so it could set up the precedent -- it just seems logical if you accept that, well, dormitory is inherently temporary for candidacy purposes, they would also be inherently temporary for voting purposes. MADDOW: The Republican activists and local officials here, Mr. Gilbert, in particular, against Montravias running for office, they`ve been pretty explicitly having said that they plan to use the same tactic to challenge not just people`s right to run for office, but people`s right to vote -- students` right to vote? HAWLEY: Mr. Gilbert has been somewhat reluctant to detail what he wants to do going forward. He did, of course, tell "The Associated Press", I want to take my show on the road. In subsequent interviews, I asked, does that mean seminars? Do you coach other county boards? What happens from here? And he hasn`t really gotten into that question, and the level of scrutiny this is drawing is something that I think would be fair to say is surprising to him. But there -- it`s only logical that this precedent would spread if it is upheld. MADDOW: If -- that`s what makes it a big deal. That`s what makes this a big deal story. If that precedent was set, if what happened here in this room stands at the state level, the precedent is set that any full- time student in North Carolina can`t vote at school. HAWLEY: It would certainly seem that way. It`s my understanding that the state board has not yet set a hearing date for Mr. King`s case. MADDOW: Yes. HAWLEY: They -- they don`t have to set a firm date as best I understand it according to state law, but they, of course, are strongly encouraged to expedite the matter. That`s according to one of his attorneys with the Southern Coalition. MADDOW: Well, tick, tick, tick. I mean, it`s not too long before the elections are going to happen. HAWLEY: Yes, our elections board of director has said he`ll hold off printing the ballot as long as he can -- MADDOW: Wow. HAWLEY: -- to make sure there`s some sort of resolution for this. But obviously it`s kind of hard for Mr. King to run for office and defend this at the same time. So, bringing finality to this soon would be an important thing. MADDOW: Absolutely. John Hawley with "The Daily Advance" -- thank you. I appreciate this chance to talk to you about this. HAWLEY: Thank you, ma`am. MADDOW: Your reporting really has been indispensable. I`ll say, wherever you are anywhere in the country, you have a local newspaper. You`ve been annoyed going to their Web site and realizing everything is behind a pay wall now. It`s because you need their money and you should subscribe for them. Seriously. For me, for Northampton, Massachusetts, "The Daily Hampshire Gazette,", I pay to get behind the pay wall. You should pay for your local paper, so guys like Jon can report on important stuff that happens in board rooms like this. Seriously. Do it. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We`re live at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, tonight. And North Carolina is a big place. About 350 miles west of here is Boone, North Carolina, and Watauga County, which is the home of Appalachian State University. More than 17,000 students, more than 2,000 employees. In the 2012 election, Watauga County overall voted for Mitt Romney for president, just barely, by about 800 votes in the whole county. But the three Boone precincts where Appalachian State is, those precincts voted heavily for President Obama, 60 percent to 35 percent. The districts that include lots of students and faculty there, they are a very blue part of that county and very blue part of this state. Last Monday, the newly Republican-controlled Watauga County Board of Elections held an unexpectedly heated special meeting at which they said they were going to eliminate two of the three voting precincts serving Boone. That means there were no longer be a place to vote on campus at Appalachian State, and that is a huge change for thousands of people there who, you know, may someday want to vote. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DYLAN RUSSELL, ASU STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT: Voting on campus is convenient. Vote in between classes. Vote whenever you want to. It`s just easy, and it`s simple. Not only is it simple for us, but it`s simple for faculty and staff that work on campus as well. RENEE SCHERLEN, ASU POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: As a kind of resident of the county and as someone who I work on campus, I usually early vote. Part of it is a question of convenience, clearly. I think I`ve pretty much always early voted. RUSSELL: Appalachian State University ranks as the number one employer in Watauga County. It makes sense to vote on campus and it makes sense to be a polling place on campus. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Right. Voting is supposed to be easy, so more people can exercise their right to do it. So where did the local board of elections decide to reroute all those thousands of voters in Boone, North Carolina, to do their voting? They rerouted them down this long road that doesn`t have a sidewalk, which is nowhere near a bus stop. But which does exist in vague proximity to a bus route which uses the smallest buses they have in the local transit system. It`s called the gold line. Check it out. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOLLIE CLAWSON, ASU DEMOCRAT PRESIDENT: The bus will pick up from the library circle every 30 minutes, and it`s about halfway down the route. So, from the route to the library circle, and from the library circle, is about 15 minutes each. If there`s too many people on the bus and they can`t accommodate the students, they`ll leave the students behind. And, you know, depending on my school schedule, depending on when I can catch the bus, it can make it really difficult for me even to get on the bus, you know, let alone other students as well. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Good luck getting a seat. You want to see the bus schedule for the route that takes you to the voting place? Ta-da! It`s down there in the corner. Welcome to the small print part of step one of the new dangerous million-step process we have newly instituted for you to exercise the right that used to be really easy. Let me emphasize, though, even if you do get on that bus, the bus stop closest to the new mega precinct for 9,000-something people is not at the mega precinct exactly. Oh, whoops, there it is, that`s it, bye, hey, stop the bus. So, wear some sturdy shoes, intrepid voters. You`re going to need them. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLAWSON: Got to be careful. This right here, this median or shoulder, actually, I`m sorry, is the sidewalk. There is no other place to walk, so it`s either this median -- or this shoulder or the tall grass. This is not a sidewalk at all. You see here we actually have to step on the road. In my shoes I`m wearing would not work with this at all. It`s really not in good condition. It puts me very close to the road. And it`s pretty much just not a good place to walk at all. I can currently put my feet forward and that`s it. And it`s getting smaller as we go. Yes, this is Agricultural Conference Center right here. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. CLAWSON: And do note that if you look, how small the parking lot is. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow. CLAWSON: Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, parking. Be advised the ag center where you`ll have to vote, you 9,000-plus voters, your new voting locale has roughly 30 parking spaces. And because it`s going to be the only place in Boone to vote, about 20 of those 30 parking places will be taken up by the election workers. So, maybe be ready to hover for a while I guess while you`re missing class and/or work? This is how it works. If you don`t want to go through the Elizabeth City-style hassle of just overtly disqualifying voters, just make it so difficult for them to vote you can be pretty darn sure they won`t. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCHERLEN: Students also tend to work in addition to taking classes. How much time they have available on a Tuesday for voting? RUSSELL: It`s a nonpartisan issue. I`ve seen friends from both sides of the political sphere come together and say, hey, I`m concerned about what`s happening, I want to vote on campus, it`s convenient. I don`t have time to walk to the Agricultural Conference Center. SCHERLEN: Our students make a large part of what Boone and Watauga County are, and to deny them the right to participate in politics here is unconscionable. I just -- I think it kind of completely denies the very vital role that they play. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Unconscionable, the assessment of the local political science professor. As for the nonpartisan part, for the record, we tried to contact the Appalachian State student Republican leadership. But they did not get back to us. They did however offer this statement on a subject to a reporter. "The Appalachian State College Republicans view the Board of Elections` decision regarding voting locations as a simple change. We will easily adapt. Given the new polling place`s close proximity to campus, this change will in no way keep students from voting." Close proximity to campus, plenty of parking, too, right? All very nonpartisan. I got it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We are here today reporting live from the great state of North Carolina, but you know how it is. Whenever you go out on the road, the whole world goes nuts. In San Diego today, Mayor Bob Filner will reportedly finally step down as mayor tomorrow, as part of a deal to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit and massive scandal. That has been a long time coming. In Egypt, former President Hosni Mubarak was freed from prison in Cairo today. He was flown by helicopter to a military hospital in Cairo where he`ll remain under house arrest. And the Department of Justice today announced they will sue the state of Texas in order to stop Texas` voter ID law. The Justice Department says it plans its challenge under the part of the voting rights act that was not gutted by the Supreme Court earlier this summer. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said this represents the department`s latest action to protect voting rights but will not be our last. The federal government is going to wade into Texas to stop what Texas is going on voter suppression. If the administration says Texas won`t be the last place that happens, what will be the next place that happens? North Carolina`s new moves against voting rights are called the most radical state-wide changes in voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Does North Carolina need federal intervention in order to protect its citizens` right to vote? Joining us now is Congressman G.K. Butterfield. He represents Elizabeth City, where we`ve been reporting from today and where we are tonight. He`s a former voting rights attorney, himself, a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice. Congressman Butterfield, thank you so much for being here tonight. REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Thank you. Thank you for having me. MADDOW: How do you explain what`s happening in your state? North Carolina is a southern state with a pretty progressive history especially on these issues. What`s happening? BUTTERFIELD: First of all, Rachel, let me thank you very much for coming to the region to report on this very sad story. Everything that you have said over the last 30 or 40 minutes is absolutely correct. It`s an embarrassment for our state. We`re not that kind of state. Down through the years we have been a progressive state. The Republicans have been locked out of state government in North Carolina for many years. This is their power grab. This is their opportunity to seize power. There were three things standing in their way up until recently. First of all, they didn`t control the legislature. They didn`t have governor`s mansion. They had Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act standing in their way. President Obama had an unexpected victory here in North Carolina in 2008. We were so proud of that. But after President Obama`s victory, they were determined to seize power. 2010, they won the state legislature, you reported. 2012, Governor McCrory was elected. And on June 25th, as we all know, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Section 5 could not be enforced because of the coverage formula. And now, with those three obstacles out of the way, the Republicans are now going full throttle, they`re doing everything within their power to seize control of this state. They recognize, as you reported, that the only way they`re going to be able to maintain power in this state, is to diminish and to dilute African- American votes in North Carolina. The African-American vote has been the margin of victory for the Democratic Party, and this is all about suppressing the black vote. We see right through it. We know exactly what`s happening. That`s why I called on Attorney General Eric Holder to not only consider suing the state of Texas, which he did today, but to bring a Section 2 lawsuit in North Carolina. There is intentional discrimination ongoing and it certainly has a discriminatory effect. MADDOW: As a longtime legislator and somebody with the judicial background that you have, do you think the Justice Department will do that? Do you expect they will? BUTTERFIELD: Well, I certainly hope so. I spoke briefly with the attorney general before I left Washington the other day about that. He is well aware of what`s happening in North Carolina. I encouraged Eric Holder to move some of the attorneys from the Section 5 unit over to the Section 2 unit, so that we can litigate more of these cases. North Carolina is right for this type of case. There is no question that we could successfully prove in North Carolina intentional discrimination as well as discriminatory impact. We`ve got to move in North Carolina. We`ve got to show the Republicans you just don`t reverse 30 years of progress with the stroke of a pen. MADDOW: When these county election boards are making the kind of decisions they are, closing the Appalachian state voting precinct and combining those precincts, here at Elizabeth City challenging the right of a student to run for office, which is the same right he would need to be able to vote here. Do you think the counties are freelancing or do you think this is a larger plan? BUTTERFIELD: Well, it`s disgusting to say the least. I don`t believe it`s a local plan of the Pasquotank Republican Party. I think this is connected to the state and to National Republican Committee. This is a national plan to disenfranchise voters for political advantage. I know it. The people of Alomar (ph) Region know it. We`re going to do everything we can to stop this overreach from the Republican Party. MADDOW: Congressman G.K. Butterfield, representing Elizabeth City, North Carolina, which has been so hospitable to us today -- thank you so much, sir. A pleasure to have you here. Thank you. All right. There is a place nearby here called the Great Dismal Swamp, best place name in the country as far as I`m concerned. It turns out it is as wicked important as it is intimidatingly named. And that story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW live from very near the Great Dismal Swamp. Hold on. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: This is almost a best new thing in the world today. To get to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, today, I flew into Virginia and I got a ride with Montravias King and I drove south with him. And just before we crossed over the Virginia/North Carolina border, I had a "you`re not from around here" moment -- very embarrassing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: The voter suppression bill as I`ve been calling it. Wow, that plane came in -- oh, it`s crop dusting. KING: Yes. Welcome to the countryside, in Virginia. MADDOW: I was like OK, and then we filmed a plane crash on the highway. No, no, crop dusting, very nice. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Welcome to the countryside, New York City. Not an attack. We`re just being crop dusted. More from Elizabeth City in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So you`re from North Carolina, originally? KING: Yes, I`m born and raised in eastern North Carolina. Small town, you know where Greenville is, right? MADDOW: Yes. KING: East Carolina, you know, Sandra Bullock, she studied there for a while. MADDOW: So growing up in eastern North Carolina, is that part of why you decided to go to Elizabeth City? KING: Well, part of the reason I decided to go to Elizabeth City is because of my godmother, she is a retired educator, she went to Elizabeth City back in the `70s. And she took me on a tour of Elizabeth City. As a matter of fact, she pulled out the red carpet. She brought me and about three of my friends up there in a stretch limousine. MADDOW: You`re kidding. (LAUGHTER) KING: Yes, she told me, she said you are going here. Now, I wanted to go to Morehouse, but she said, this is where you`re going at. MADDOW: Wow. KING: And sure enough, I ended up going to Elizabeth City State University. And I`m really glad I made that decision. MADDOW: How about your friends in the limo, did they all end up there, too? KING: They went to other places. MADDOW: She had the most leverage with you? KING: Yes, she did. MADDOW: Elizabeth City started as a teacher`s college, didn`t it? KING: It started in 1881 as a state normal school. This guy Hugh Cale who was the first black legislator, first black county commissioner of Pasquotank County, he went on to found the school. MADDOW: And now, it is -- as a historically black school, it is mostly African-American, but it is diverse, right? KING: That`s right. It is mostly African-American, but it is every year, it gets more and more diverse. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: When you drive to Elizabeth City from the nearest airport in Norfolk, Virginia, you drive past the place I would put up against any other place I know for the most foreboding place name in all of our county. Forget badlands, forget devils anything, forget cheese quake, or belcher town. When you drive from Norfolk and you cross the state line from Virginia into North Carolina down toward Elizabeth City, you go through Dismal Swamp, the great Dismal Swamp. Dismal Swamp is a state park. The Dismal Swamp canal was dug by slaves. It took 12 years to (AUDIO GAP) terrible conditions. But they finished it. It was opened by 1805. By the time the civil war rolled around 18 years later, that canal was the life blood for the Confederacy. The Union forces blockaded the whole southern coastline to stop the transportation and the supplying troops from the sea during the Civil War. Well, that just made the south inland waterways like the dismal swamp canal absolutely priceless to the South. And in 1861 at the start of the civil war, Elizabeth City did great, using those canals to supply the Confederate Army, which, of course, the Union forces did not like, and so, they put a stop to it. In 1862, the Union forces invaded and took over. They panicked locals in Elizabeth City so much that they set fire to much of the most valuable real estate in this town to stop it from coming under northern control. Although, ultimately, the town put up a monument to the man who they say saved the town from total destruction by surrendering on behalf to the city to the Union forces. And Elizabeth City, North Carolina, stayed under the occupying control of the Union forces for the duration of the war. Thanks to the great Dismal Swamp canal and its strategic location, it was too valuable for the union to think they could give it up. So, they stayed. After the Civil War was over, the semi-official history of the town notes dryly that Elizabeth City saw the arrival of ambitious Northerners, who assumed leading roles in the post-war development here. And that reconstruction gets us to North Carolina having African-American legislators, black legislators like the aforementioned Hugh Cale, who in 1891 sponsored state legislation to create a normal school here, to train black educators to teach black students in this state. That was 1891. And Elizabeth City State University has been through a few name changes since then, but it is still here. It survived. In the `60s, Elizabeth City integrated its public schools. The whites-only high school became the junior high school. The blacks-only high school became an elementary school because they eventually tore it down. Now, Elizabeth City is known for its huge Coast Guard presence. The naval air station here that used blimps to monitor the shipping canal looking for German U-boats during World War II has evolved to make this place a center, a hub in the world of high tech blimps, because there are high tech blimps. And now, the great Dismal Swamp is a park, and anybody arriving here in this downtown by boat gets 48 hours free docking if space is available and it is a beautiful place, lovely. And the people are nice. But this place is on its way to nowhere. It is out of the way. You have to try to be here if you want to be here. You are not going to stumble upon it. And the fight being waged here in this out of the way beautiful place is actually a fight in some ways over lost ground. These are fights that were already supposed to have been won. Students in the South, specifically black students in the South fought for and won the right to vote in past generations. But there has been slippage, and now in 2013, Montravias King is not able to campaign for the local office he is running for, instead has to campaign to be considered eligible to run for office, to be considered eligible to even vote. So far, they say he is not eligible. And if that stands it is a precedent for taking the vote away from his student at his historically black college in this town, that has been here since 1981. Every college student in the state could be disenfranchised if this stands. While at the same time, they are taking the vote away from everyone in the state who doesn`t have ID, that black people and brown people and poor people disproportionately do not have in the state. If they rolled him, they rolled the state. And if they roll the state, do you think they stop with this state? This is an out of the way place. But just like 150 years ago, it is one of immense strategic importance, not just symbolic importance, but strategic importance. And that does it for us tonight. Big thank you to Elizabeth City for hosting us today. Everybody has been so nice. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END