This week, North Carolina’s Gov. Pat McCrory signed what is being touted as the most restrictive voter suppression bill to date. Less than 24 hours later, lawsuits were filed, a senator contacted the DOJ and two local elections boards rushed to make changes to disenfranchise students.
It’s that bad.
The three lawsuits filed, two within hours of the bill being signed, are challenging multiple provisions of the law, focusing on constitutional issues and violations of the Voting Rights Act. The suits have been filed by a coalition of organizations: North Carolina NAACP and the Advancement Project; the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) and the ACLU on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
Two allege violations of the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment, claiming “irrational and unnecessary discrimination against entire groups of people” — in this case African-Americans, elderly and students. The NAACP suit also alleges violations of the Fifteenth Amendment for the disenfranchisement of blacks. The SCSJ filed a third lawsuit claiming violation of the North Carolina constitution, alleging that the legislature doesn’t have the power to set new voter qualifications.
The specific provisions of the law that are being challenged are the voter ID requirements, the reduction of early voting, the elimination of same day voter registration, the refusal to count out of precinct provisional ballots and the increase in the number of poll watchers.
Many of these provisions would have required pre-clearance under Section 5 of the VRA prior to the recent SCOTUS decision finding Section 4 unconstitutional. Forty of North Carolina’s counties were covered under Section 4. The provisions are now being challenged under Section 2, which prohibits any “voting standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”
The day after the bill was signed into law, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review the new law, expressing concern that it “will restrict the ability of minorities, seniors, students, the disabled, and low and middle incomes citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
The attorney general has been shifting resources within the DOJ, indicating that he will be using the remaining parts of the VRA (Voting Rights Act). He is currently challenging Texas’ new voting laws under Section 3, commonly referred to as the “bail-in” provision. Under this section, the federal government can ask a federal judge to declare a jurisdiction in violation of the VRA and require pre-clearance for changes in voting conditions under Section 5. Since 1975, nine jurisdictions have been bailed-in.
While these challenges wend their way through the court, districts are already implementing provisions in the law. In Watauga County, the elections board cut the early voting locations from three locations to one, as well as combined three precincts into one.
This means voters will have less time to vote early with more people at fewer locations to do so.
In Pasquotank County, the elections board barred a student from Elizabeth City State University from running for the city council, saying that his campus address was not his permanent residence. Furthermore, the head of the county’s Republican Party stated he was going to challenge the voter registrations of the students at the university and those across the state, now that student IDs are no longer an acceptable form of identification and they need a government issued one with their permanent address.
It should be noted that Elizabeth City State University is a historically black college.
The DOJ has yet to respond to Senator’s Hagan’s request for federal review. It is possible that if they were to get involved, they would explore their Section 3 options. The SCSJ/ACLU lawsuit is already seeking a bail-in under Section 3. The judge will need to decide if the specific provisions of the law intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
Of course, North Carolina republicans maintain this is simply about the integrity of the vote. It’s completely coincidental that the more than 300,000 North Carolinians that are most disenfranchised by the new requirements are students, the elderly, the poor and minorities.
That’s 5 percent of registered voters. President Obama lost North Carolina by 2 percent.
Every vote counts…which is exactly what North Carolina is trying to prevent.