NC Court Ruling on Voting Rights

Courtesy Senator Angela Bryant:

On Friday, July 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down several key provisions of an election law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013.  According to the Fourth Circuit, the North Carolina legislature enacted the challenged provisions with an intent to discriminate against African-American voters.  For that reason, the Court of Appeals said, the provisions violated both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.  The full Fourth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court are unlikely to intervene in this case or reinstate any of these provisions before the 2016 election.  

In light of the Fourth Circuit’s decision, North Carolina voters:

  • Will be entitled to vote without presenting photo identification
  • Will enjoy an additional seven days of early voting
  • Will be able to register to vote at an early-voting site on the same day that they   cast their ballots
  • Will have their provisional votes counted if they appear at the wrong precinct within their county on Election Day, for every race for which they are eligible to vote
  • Will be able to pre-register to vote as sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds

Some provisions of the 2013 law remain in place and are not affected by this decision.  Some, but not all, of the provisions that remain in place include:

  • Absentee ballots require two witnesses (or one, if a notary public)  
  • Each county party chair may appoint up to ten additional at-large poll observers who can attend any voting place in the county
  • Voters may not sign registration forms with “electronically captured” signatures
  • Individuals may not be compensated based on the number of voters they assist in registering to vote
  • Candidates will be listed on the ballot in alphabetical order by party beginning with the party that won the most recent gubernatorial election
  • Voters cannot cast a “straight-party” ballot
  • If the polls are delayed in opening for more than 15 minutes, the NC Board of Elections may extend the closing time for an equal number of minutes.  County Boards of Elections, however, no longer have the discretion to extend voting hours by an hour due to “extraordinary circumstances.”
  • Any registered voter in the state (as opposed to any voter in the specific county) can inspect a county’s registration records during regular BOE business hours on non-election days and challenge another voter’s registration in that county
  • On Election Day, any registered voter in a county (as opposed to any voter in the specific precinct) can challenge another voter’s eligibility to vote

It is not entirely clear whether one provision of the 2013 law remains in effect despite the Fourth Circuit’s decision.  That provision required every county to offer the same cumulative number of hours of early voting for this presidential election as the county offered for the 2012 presidential election.  There is a strong argument that this provision should remain intact because it was not enacted with a discriminatory intent.  We are waiting to receive additional guidance on this particular issue.  We are also waiting to hear what the State Board of Elections plans to tell the County Boards with regard to their early voting plans.  

All in all, this decision is a huge victory for all those who believe that the right to vote is a fundamental human right that should be enjoyed by all Americans regardless of the color of their skin.

Let us show how much we appreciate this opportunity by helping to get the Vote Out in 2016!!!