Without the last Saturday of early voting, more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties may lose weekend voting altogether, according to a new report from Democracy NC.
The report, titled “Greater Costs, Fewer Options: The Impact of the Early Voting Uniform Hours Requirement in the 2018 Election,” found that the uniform weekday hours requirements under Senate Bill 325 drained local resources and led many counties to reduce Early Voting sites and weekend voting options in the 2018 midterm election.
The measure requires counties to keep satellite early voting sites open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, which massively increased staffing costs. It also explicitly eliminated the popular last Saturday of early voting for all elections after 2018. Legislation was passed just before the election to add the last Saturday back in 2018 only. Democracy NC’s research found that the removal of this popular weekend option in future elections would disproportionately impact young voters, Black and Latinx voters, and voters in rural counties.
Senior Researcher Sunny Frothingham, who authored the report, said the changes under SB 325 not only forced counties across North Carolina to reduce popular polling hours and options in 2018, but also, without legislative changes, will set the stage for more limited access to early voting in 2020’s high-profile presidential election cycle.
“Over the last decade, North Carolina has become infamous for some of the nation’s most harmful voter suppression tactics — including Senate Bill 325, which forced the majority of counties to reduce the number of weekend hours and almost half to eliminate popular voting sites” she said. “Under current law, counties will face the same constraints moving forward, and North Carolinians will lose access to the heavily-used last Saturday in all future elections, including 2020.”
The report acknowledges that 2018 was a high turnout election statewide compared to 2014, but notes that site changes chipped away at county-level performance, especially in rural counties where the distance between voters and early voting sites increased the most.
Other key findings in the report, according to the voting rights organization are:
• Following the passage of SB 325, 43 counties reduced the number of early voting sites offered in 2018 compared to 2014, 51 counties reduced the number of weekend days offered, and 67 counties reduced the number of weekend hours.
• Of the eight rural Eastern counties where a majority of registered voters are Black (Hertford, Edgecombe, Bertie, Northampton, Halifax, Vance, Warren, Washington), four of those counties (Bertie, Northampton, Halifax, and Vance) reduced sites under SB 325, all but Halifax County reduced weekend days, and all eight reduced the number of weekend hours during early voting. None of the eight counties increased sites or weekend options.
Democracy NC Executive Director Tomas Lopez called on the legislature to take immediate action and take up House Bill 893. The 2019 proposal, which was referred to the House Committee on Elections and Ethics Law last month, would restore the early voting law to pre-2013 flexibility, return the mandatory last Saturday of early voting and provide maximum flexibility to county Boards of Elections to design early voting schedules that could vary across satellite sites.
“While uniform voting hours are not inherently negative, as implemented, S325 makes it harder for voters to have their voices heard and for election officials to provide the robust early voting opportunities that North Carolina voters expect and deserve,” he said. “The 2020 election cycle starts early and will involve many more voters than cast ballots in 2018 — it’s time for lawmakers to consider legislation that would give North Carolina’s counties back the flexibility needed to make the best decisions for their resources and voters.”
Read the full report below.