Voters stand in line before the sun rises to cast their votes at a polling precinct at the Wake County Firearms Education and Training Center in Apex, N.C., on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012.
Gerry Broome/AP

Experts: North Carolina early voting cuts will hit blacks hardest


If the cuts to early voting in North Carolina’s restrictive voting law had been in effect in 2012, Election Day wait times would have risen dramatically, a significant number of would-be voters would have given up in frustration—and African-American voters would have been hit hardest.

That’s according to two top voting scholars, whose testimony in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure was released Thursday by the ACLU, one of the groups leading the effort.

The law’s challengers, including the U.S. Justice Department, allege that it violates the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination in voting. The expert testimony of Ted Allen of Ohio State and Paul Gronke of Reed College is a key part of establishing both that the measure would make it harder to vote and that its impact would be felt disproportionately by non-whites.

Among other provisions, North Carolina’s law, passed last year by Republicans, cut seven days from the state’s early voting period. In 2012, 900,000 North Carolinians used those days to vote. Allen, an engineering expert who has written a book on voting wait times, calculated that if just 4%, or 36,000, of those voters showed up on Election Day instead, wait times would have more than doubled, from 13 to 27 minutes. If all 900,000 shifted to Election Day, wait times would have gone up by three hours.

The experience of Ohio in 2004 – when some voters in predominantly Democratic areas waited ten hours or more to vote – shows how wait times can dampen turnout. A DNC study estimated that 174,000 people left in frustration as a result of the lines.

In separate testimony, Gronke, a political scientist who is among the country’s leading experts on early voting, calculated that early voting turnout declined by 10.7% in Florida in 2012 after the state eliminated several days of early voting, hitting black voters hardest. “After Florida cut back on early voting, its population of early voters became less black, and more white,” Gronke writes.

In addition to the early voting cuts, the North Carolina law also imposes a photo ID requirement and ends same-day registration. These provisions, too, will hurt non-whites the most, the lawsuit alleges.

In fact, the suit goes further, claiming that the law was intended to discriminate against minorities. To make that case, the law’s challengers asked for the emails and other communications of state lawmakers as they drafted and advanced the measure.

North Carolina’s Republican administration had sought to keep the emails secret, claiming legislative privilege. But a judge ruled last month that the law’s challengers can have access to most of what they’re seeking. 

The trial that will determine the law’s fate won’t take place until 2015 – after this year’s midterms, when a key U.S. Senate race will be contested. But a court could issue an injunction to stop the law from going into effect for the fall.