RICHMOND, Va. — On July 29, a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s restrictive omnibus voting law in a sweeping victory for voting rights, holding that it was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” Democracy North Carolina, the state’s largest voting-rights organization, praised the ruling.
“We applaud the appeals court for recognizing the discriminatory intent behind the monster voter suppression law. The ruling makes clear that the North Carolina General Assembly cherry-picked its revisions to the law in order to suppress African-American and young voters. Today’s ruling begins to right that wrong.”
The ruling focused on the five parts of the Monster Law challenged by numerous organizations, individual voters and the US Justice Department. Specifically, the ruling:
· blocks the requirement for voters to present an ID to vote (except for voters who use same-day registration or whose registration could not be verified; these are situations from earlier state law that permit a wider range of ID documents);
· returns the Early Voting period to 17 days instead of just 10 days;
· restores same-day registration during Early Voting;
· restores out-of-precinct voting on Election Day (voter is in right county but wrong precinct); and
· restores pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds.
Other provisions in the Monster Law remain in place, such as the repeal of straight-ticket voting and increased number of poll observers.
Through Democracy North Carolina’s 2016 Vote Protector campaign, the organization documented problems and provided the Fourth Circuit with what the Raleigh News and Observer called the voter ID law’s “damning results” on March Primary Voters. Democracy NC has issued numerous reports about the harmful impact of the law, including “Alarm Bells from Silenced Voters” and an amicus brief for the Circuit Court.
Republican leaders and the State could seek to appeal the decision to the full bench of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals or to the Supreme Court, but it seems unlikely those courts will intervene in advance of the November election.
When the dust settles, Democracy NC will update our educational materials to reflect the changes.
Right now, we are recruiting poll monitors for an unprecedented Election Protection campaign this fall to help voters navigate this new landscape for voting in North Carolina.
THE PAST IS PRESENT
The Court’s ruling made it clear that race and politics are closely intertwined in the state: “Our conclusion does not mean, and we do not suggest, that any member of the General Assembly harbored racial hatred or animosity toward any minority group,” the Court said. “But the totality of the circumstances – North Carolina’s history of voting discrimination; the surge in African American voting; the legislature’s knowledge that African American voting translated into support for one party; and the swift elimination of the tools African Americans had used to vote, and imposition of a new barrier at the first opportunity to do so – cumulatively and unmistakably reveal that the General Assembly used SL 2013-381 to entrench itself. It did so by targeting voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Even if done for partisan ends, that constituted racial discrimination.”
More than 100 years ago, the Democratic Party used literacy tests and other tactics targeting African Americans to defeat a successful fusion coalition of black Republicans and white Populists. A political culture of voter suppression kept North Carolina among the worst dozen states for voter turnout throughout the twentieth century. Big gains only occurred after 2000 with the addition of Early Voting, then out-of-precinct voting, and then same-day registration.
In 2008, North Carolina led the nation with the biggest jump in voter turnout over 2004 – fueled by a new fusion coalition and the dramatic increase in African-American turnout, from 59% of registered black voters in 2004 to 72% in 2008, a modern record. Republican strategists took note of the provisions that helped boost turnout among black and young voters, and when they gained power, they gutted each one in what became HB-589, the Monster Law, SL 2013-318.
“Before enacting that law,” the Court ruling said, “the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”