BACKSTORY: About a month ago, on July 29, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s anti-voter law. The appeals court noted that the 2013 law suppressed African-American voter turnout “with almost surgical precision” and invalidated most of it. The court’s scathing opinion said that “because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.” The law, passed by a Republican-dominated legislature, imposed strict voter-ID requirements, cut back early-voting hours and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and preregistration for those under 18.
The court restored the week of early voting that the law had slashed, but it left it to local election boards to set the number of polling places and voting hours.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE: Those local election boards, all of which are led by Republicans, have tried to cut voting hours below what they were for the 2012 election. In fact, Dallas Woodhouse, the head of the North Carolina’s Republican Party, saw an opportunity and ran with it, writing in an August email to election officials that “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.”
Election boards in 23 of the state’s 100 counties have now reduced early voting hours, in some cases to a small fraction of what they were in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis by The Raleigh News & Observer. Boards in nine counties voted to eliminate Sunday voting. Both early voting and Sunday voting are used disproportionately by black voters.
While boards in 70 counties voted to expand the number of early-voting hours, the counties that moved to cut hours back account for half of the state’s registered voters. In heavily Democratic Mecklenburg County — the state’s largest, with about one million residents — Republicanboard members voted to eliminate 238 early-voting hours despite near-unanimous appeals from the public to add more. In 2012, African-Americans in Mecklenburg used early voting at a far higher rate than whites.
The board’s chairwoman, Mary Potter Summa, said she was “not a fan of early voting,” which she claimed presented more opportunities for “violations,” even though there is no evidence that early voting, which is used by more than half of all North Carolinians, carries an increased risk of fraud.
The specter of fraud has been used to justify voter-suppression efforts across the country, even though there is virtually no evidence of fraud. In its ruling, the Fourth Circuit said that lawmakers “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.”
What is far more dangerous to the integrity of American elections is the persistent efforts of lawmakers to disenfranchise large numbers of minority voters, rather than to work to win their votes with a party platform that treats them with respect.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TODAY: The North Carolina State Board of Elections is working through conflicts among local election officials unable to agree on early voting schedules. There are contested plans covering 33 of the state’s 100 counties. They are debating these issues before standing-room only crowd.
The NS State Board of Elections is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats.
Whether to allow Sunday voting has been a contentious question, which the court left to the state’s discretion. African-American churches have traditionally driven members to vote in “souls to the polls” efforts on Sundays, benefiting Democratic candidates more than Republicans.
In two key counties — Rockingham, north of Greensboro; and Gaston, west of Charlotte — the GOP-led board approved Republican plans that keep early-voting sites closed on Sundays.
In Craven County, near the coast, however, the board’s three Republicans made a concession, agreeing to open a single early voting site for four hours on a Sunday. Democrats had wanted two Sundays of voting before Election Day.
Civil rights activists have accused some Republicans of seeking to undermine the appellate court ruling by proposing still more barriers to ballot access.
In apparent ignorance of the court ruling, GOP leaders have countered that it’s fair for Republicans to use rules to their advantage, and that Democrats need to stop whining and play the game.
News is slow to come out, but it appears that the GOP is willing to allow for more early voting hours, but no Sundays (they really hate the “souls to the polls” thing).