North Carolina’s recent voting law changes will disproportionately affect black voters in the state, according to a study posted on Dartmouth University’s website Wednesday.
“The study provides powerful ammunition for the pending legal challenges,” says Brenda Wright, a voting rights expert with the liberal think tank Demos. “It shows that virtually every key feature of North Carolina’s election legislation will disproportionately cut back on registration and voting by African Americans in North Carolina as compared to whites.”
North Carolina was once covered by the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that states and other jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting submit their voting law changes to the Justice Department for approval. After the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional last year the formula for determining which jurisdictions were covered by that requirement, North Carolina’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a package of voting law restrictions. Among the changes were shortening the time for early voting, instituting a photo ID requirement, eliminating same-day voter registration and limiting pre-registration for teenagers to those who will be of voting age on Election Day. According to the study, all of those changes “will have a disparate effect on black voters in North Carolina.”
“We tried to figure out using publicly available voting data if the aspects we studied looked like they would have dispropritonate effect on one racial group or whether they would be race neutral,” says Michael Herron, a professor of government at Darmouth and a co-author of the study. All of the changes they studied, Herron says, “would have a disproportionate effect on African-Americans.”
The study concludes that:
Specifically, we find that in presidential elections the state’s black early voters have traditionally cast their ballots disproportionately often in the first week of early voting, a week eliminated by VIVA; that blacks disproportionately have registered to vote during North Carolina’s early voting period and in the run-up to Election Day, something now prohibited by VIVA; that VIVA’s photo identification provision falls disproportionately on registered blacks in North Carolina; that the special identification dispensation for North Carolina voters who are at least 70 years old disproportionately benefits white voters; and, that prior to the implementation of VIVA young blacks were disproportionately more likely than whites to avail themselves of the opportunity to preregister to vote.
The study did not examine whether the law’s authors intended for the changes to have that effect. The state has been resisting efforts to force disclosure of emails
from legislators that might shed light on what lawmakers’ intentions were. North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory wrote shortly after he signed the law
that it would “protect the integrity of one of the most precious rights guaranteed in our state constitution, the right to vote.”
The study could provide support for civil rights groups and the federal government as they seek to challenge the North Carolina law. Shortly after it was passed, both civil rights groups and the federal government charged in seperate lawsuits that the law was intended to disenfranchise minority voters. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act bars voting practices that deprive Americans of their right to vote on the basis of race, whether or not they are intended to do so. The feds are also asking the court to reinstate the requirement that North Carolina get federal approval for its voting law changes.
“The courts hearing the current challenges should certainly take notice,” Wright said.