CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law and whether key provisions can go into effect before the midterm election. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice are challenging provisions that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting.
The groups sought to have the provisions halted prior to next summer’s trial, but last month a judge ruled the law could go into effect, prompting the appeal. The three-judge appeals panel consisted of Henry F. Floyd, Diana Gribbon Motz, and James A. Wynn Jr.
“With minimal effort, the state could act to prevent the disenfranchisement of thousands of North Carolinians, and we’ve asked the appellate court to do exactly what the Sixth Circuit in Ohio just did in stopping these burdensome election law changes,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
“Tampering with the right to vote should not be taken lightly,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “The restrictions imposed by this law stand to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters. If this law is found unconstitutional following next year’s trial, voters who were blocked from participating in the midterm election will never get that chance back.”
Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. The groups charge that implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.
North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half of all votes cast. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections. Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship on voters.
In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information, and vote in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.