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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

Commentary

Voting rightsThe good people at Democracy North Carolina released a new and detailed report today that documents the negative impact that North Carolina’s new “monster voting law” has already had on voter participation. The report actually provides the names, hometowns and zip codes of 454 voters who were denied the right to vote in the May primary, but who would have been allowed to vote under the rules governing the 2012 election. This is from the report, which is entitled “Be Prepared: Hundreds of Voters Lost Their Votes in 2014 Primary Due to New Election Rules”:

We analyzed the provisional ballots cast in the 2014 primary by more than 400 voters whose votes would have counted in 2012, but who were rejected this year because of two changes in the rules: (1) these voters were unable to register during the Early Voting period because they couldn’t use the old “same-day registration” law; or (2) they were unable to cast a ballot on Election Day outside of their own polling place because they couldn’t use the old “out-of-precinct voting” law.

Voters denied a chance to have their voices heard include a veteran returning from Afghanistan whose registration was incorrectly terminated while he was away; a first-time voter who registered at the DMV, but that registration didn’t reach the local board of elections; a precinct judge assigned to a precinct other than her own who couldn’t leave to vote in her home precinct; a disabled senior who was driven to a friend’s polling place on Election Day; a nurse who temporarily registered her car in a nearby county while working at its hospital for nine months; a college student who registered during a voter drive but her application was not recorded; and a new couple in town who mailed in their registration but it did not reach the county board of elections before the registration deadline…. Read More

Uncategorized

Despite recent action by the State Board of Elections overturning the efforts of Pasquotank County officials to prevent an Elizabeth City State University student from running for office, activists at NC Vote Defenders report that all is not yet hunky dory for ECSU students seeking to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

As the activist group reported yesterday on its website:

It’s Already Started: Student Voter Suppression Hits NC on the First Day of Early Voting Read More