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Greensboro News & Record editorial writer Doug Clark is on the money with this column praising this week’s Fourth Circuit decision to enjoin two key voter suppression laws enacted by North Carolina’s current political leaders:

The court noted the propriety of applying “the totality of circumstances” to its analysis. In this case, the circumstances included waiting for the Supreme Court to strike down preclearance requirements under the Voting Rights Act last year before the legislature rolled out its bill in all its many parts.

“By inspecting the different parts of House Bill 589 as if they existed in a vacuum, the district court failed to consider the sum of those parts and their cumulative effect on minority access to the ballot box,” Wynn wrote for the court.

Also relevant is the history of racial discrimination in North Carolina’s voting past.

The court drew an obvious conclusion:

“The election laws in North Carolina prior to House Bill 589’s enactment encouraged participation by qualified voters. But the challenged House Bill 589 provisions stripped them away….”

The changes were partisan weapons, no less than gerrymandered redistricting. Why anyone would pretend otherwise is beyond me.

I don’t know how it will come out eventually, but I wish North Carolina would take steps to encourage more voting, not discourage it.

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully takes GOP officials to task for spending large sums of taxpayer dollars to defend their suppression efforts:

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Commentary
Sen. Rand Paul - Photo: Facebook

Sen. Rand Paul – Photo: Facebook

North Carolina’s Governor and state legislative leaders have indicated that they will appeal today’s Fourth Circuit ruling that enjoined two key voter suppression provisions that they helped enact in the 2013 “monster voting law.” Interestingly, however, this position runs directly contrary to several strong statements by one of the nation’s most prominent GOP presidential contenders, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

As MSNBC reported yesterday:

Backed by the Supreme Court, Republicans are looking to crack down on early voting. But one of the party’s potential 2016 front-runners doesn’t sound like he’s on board.

“I think it’s a dumb idea to spend a lot of time on Republicans trying to change early voting,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told the Associated Press in an interview published Tuesday. “My position is I want more people to vote, not less.” Read More

News

Voter IDSaying that the right to vote is fundamental, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ordered the federal district court in Greensboro to stay provisions of the state’s recently enacted voting changes which eliminated same-day registration and prohibited the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots.

In a  2-1 decision joined by U.S. Judge Henry Floyd, U.S. District Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. wrote:

Courts routinely deem restrictions on fundamental voting rights irreparable injury.And discriminatory voting procedures in particular are “the kind of serious violation of  the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act for which courts have granted immediate relief.” This makes sense generally and here specifically because whether the number is thirty or thirty-thousand, surely some North Carolina minority voters will be disproportionately adversely affected in the upcoming election. And once the election occurs, there can be no do-over and no redress. The injury to these voters is real and completely irreparable if nothing is done to enjoin this law.

So ruling, the court left intact other provisions of the so-called “monster voting law,” including these: the reduction of early-voting days; the expansion of allowable voter challengers; the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the polls open an additional hour on Election Day in “extraordinary circumstances”; the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen years old by the next general election; and the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements that go into effect in 2016. The judges said that plaintiffs may prevail on these claims later, but did not make enough of a showing to get a preliminary injunction.

Critical to the majority’s decision was the finding that the state’s elimination of same-day registration and its prohibition against counting out-of-precinct ballots likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act:

Everyone in this case agrees that Section 2 has routinely been used to address vote dilution—which basically allows all voters to ‘sing’ but forces certain groups to do so pianissimo. Vote denial is simply a more extreme form of the same pernicious violation—those groups are not simply made to sing quietly; instead their voices are silenced completely. A fortiori, then, Section 2 must support vote-denial claims.

The court then pointed to undisputed evidence showing that “same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were enacted to increase voter participation, that African American voters disproportionately used those electoral mechanisms, and that House Bill 589 restricted those mechanisms and thus disproportionately impacts African American voters.”

U.S. District Judge Diana Gribbon Motz issued a dissenting opinion, noting that while she was troubled by portions of the lower court’s ruling she did not believe that ruling met the “clearly erroneous” standard needed for reversal.  Motz also agreed with the state that changes to current voting law should not be made this close to the election.

Attorneys for the challengers praised the court’s decision to block key parts of the new voting law.

“The court’s order safeguards the vote for tens of thousands of North Carolinians,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “It means they will continue to be able to use same-day registration, just as they have during the last three federal elections.”

“This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina,” Southern Coalition for Social Justice staff attorney Allison Riggs added. “The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation.”

But Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, while pleased with the court’s refusal to block several provisions of law, said they were troubled by the ruling on same-day registration and out-of-precinct balloting. “We intend to appeal this decision as quickly as possible to the Supreme Court,” they said in a statement.

Read the full decision here.

 

News

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that Ohio’s attempts to limit early voting — a subject that will be argued tomorrow in front of the Fourth Circuit when it considers North Carolina’s recently enacted voting restrictions — are in fact unconstitutional. This is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed a district court decision restoring early voting cuts and expanding early voting hours.

The ruling from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is a setback for Secretary of State Jon Husted, who had appealed a lower court’s order that he expand early voting hours.

The three-judge panel previously rejected a request to delay the court order pending Husted’s appeal. Husted then expanded statewide early, in-person voting hours while the case proceeded.

Civil rights groups and several African-American churches sued state officials in May over a new state law eliminating “Golden Week,” a week-long window when people could both register to vote and cast a ballot in Ohio, and a statewide early, in-person voting schedule that did not include Sundays. Attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued in U.S. Southern District Court that the reduced number of days burdened low-income and African-American Ohioans who are more likely to take advantage of Golden Week and Sunday voting.

U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus agreed. He ruled that once Ohio granted a broad scheme of early, in-person voting, state officials could not reduce it in a way that burdened certain groups of voters.

Read the court’s unanimous ruling by clicking here.

Commentary

The good folks at the ACLU have the details on the case which is also being lead by the North Carolina NAACP and civil rights lawyers at the Advancement Project:

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on Thursday, September 25, on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) are challenging provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit out-of-precinct voting. Implementing these provisions would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act.

The ACLU and SCSJ argued the law should be placed on hold until trial next summer —and in time for the midterm elections in November —but a district court judge ruled the law could go into effect; the ACLU and SCSJ appealed.

We are asking the court to protect the integrity of our elections and safeguard the vote for thousands of North Carolinians by not allowing these harmful provisions to go into effect,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

WHO: American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Coalition for Social Justice

WHAT: Oral arguments in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on North Carolina’s restrictive voting law

WHERE: The U.S. Courthouse, 401 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, N.C.

WHEN: Thursday, September 25, 1 p.m.

Background: North Carolina passed a restrictive voting law in August 2013. The ACLU and SCSJ challenged provisions of the law Read More