Of all the states that imposed new voting restrictions since 2010 – and there have been so many – no state was quite as ambitious as North Carolina. As we’ve discussed before, Republican policymakers in the state, led by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), slashed early voting, placed new limitations on voter-registration drives, made it harder for students to vote (and even register to vote), ended same-day registration during the early voting period, and made it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters.
All of these measures, according to the state’s own numbers, disproportionately affect African-American voters.
When voting-rights advocates filed suit, trying to block implementation of the new measures, they came up short at the district court. As of this afternoon, however, proponents of voting rights had far more success at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Zach Roth reports this afternoon:
A federal appeals court put a hold Wednesday on two key provisions of North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law, but left other parts in place. […]By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel blocked the law’s elimination of same-day voter registration, and its ban on counting out-of-precinct ballots. It green-lighted the law’s elimination of a week of early voting, as well as several other provisions, including the elimination of a popular “pre-registration” program for high-school students. Barring a reversal, those planks will be in effect for the state’s fall elections, which include a tight U.S. Senate race.
In this 2-1 ruling, the majority included two judges appointed by President Obama.
Ari Berman’s report took a closer look at the restrictions that will remain in place, many of which were imposed on North Carolinians for no apparent reason.
So, what happens now?
It’s worth emphasizing that both today’s decision and the lower court ruling dealt with the request for an injunction, and the challenge to the voting restrictions on the merits will continue.
In the meantime, state officials are all but certain to appeal, and elections-law expert Rick Hasen believes North Carolina’s chances of overturning today’s ruling are good.
This is a case that North Carolina could take to the 4th Circuit en banc, although given the press of time I expect they will go right to the Supreme Court. I would not be surprised to see the Supreme Court reverse this 4th Circuit panel decision on the same 5-4 conservative/liberal lines that we saw earlier this week in the Ohio voting case. That would not necessarily mean that the Court would reject the broad reading of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act offered today by the 4th Circuit. The split could be over the issue, also present in the 7th Circuit Wisconsin voter id case (which could head to the Supreme Court today) about the dangers of courts changing election rules just before the election.
Of course, with each passing court fight over GOP-imposed voting restrictions, the likelihood of the Supreme Court tackling the issue improves.
* Update: North Carolina’s Board of Elections issued a response to today’s ruling. “We are concerned that changes so close to the election may contribute to voter confusion,” said Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach of the State Board of Elections. “More than 4 million voter guides have gone to the public with information contrary to today’s decision.”