Less than three weeks before Election Day, new voter ID requirements, early voting schedules and voter registration rules in more than a dozen states are creating uncertainty that could dampen turnout. In some states, courts are still hashing out new rules. Fourteen states have election laws that are more restrictive than they were during the last presidential election in 2012. Most of them require voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots. Some of those ID laws have been scaled back or overturned by judges citing racial discrimination, but legal battles have continued in several states because voting rights advocates say state officials haven’t fully complied with court orders. There is confusion stemming from other court cases as well. Kansas’ attempt to require proof of citizenship from voters is still tied up in court. In Ohio, the battle is over people the state purged from the voter rolls because they hadn’t voted in six years.
Some North Carolina voters who want to expand early in-person voting in the presidential battleground state lost their case before a federal appeals court Wednesday, and in Georgia a federal judge refused to extend the voter registration deadline again for counties stricken by Hurricane Matthew. But a voters’ group in Virginia still held out hope of extending that state’s registration deadlines. A three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion focused on five North Carolina counties that include cities such as Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. A trial court judge refused the same request last week. The voters’ lawyers argued the counties weren’t complying with the 4th Circuit’s ruling in July striking down portions of a 2013 law that reduced the early-voting period by seven days. The period now covers 17 days, beginning Thursday. The voters said election officials should have allowed additional early voting on Sunday, during the first seven days of the period, or on the Saturday afternoon before Election Day.
North Carolina: Federal courts reject challenge brought by Clinton campaign counsel to early voting plans in 5 North Carolina counties | The Charlotte Observer
A federal appeals court panel has rejected a request by a group of North Carolina voters for modifications to early-voting plans in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Nash and New Hanover counties. Early voting starts Thursday in North Carolina. Marc Elias — a Washington, D.C.-based attorney involved in several high-profile voting rights cases and counsel to Hillary Clinton’s campaign — represented a group of voters who filed their request in early October, less than three weeks before early voting was to start.
Memorial Gym in Macon was under renovation in February when local election officials suggested a new temporary polling place for voters in the majority-black neighborhood: the Sheriff’s Office. Local officials said it was a sincere effort to find a safe location to host voters. Residents, who have seen several polling sites close and have raised concerns about racial profiling by police, decided they’d had enough. “When voter suppression still exists and when we have to stand up for what we believe in and what is right, we will do it,” said Gwen Westbrooks, who helped organize a response that stopped the move. Dozens of polling places have closed, consolidated or moved across Georgia since the last presidential election, worrying some voter advocates over how that might affect turnout heading into this year’s contest. Local officials say the closures are money-savers and more efficient, especially at a time when there is increased access to early voting. Some voter activists, however, fear it is a tactic to limit voting access, especially for the state’s minorities.
It’s a truism of modern politics that Republicans have placed voting rights under assault in the states they control. Ever since the G.O.P. landslides in the midterm elections of 2010, Republicans have worked to restrict the right to vote in a variety of ways—by cutting back on opportunities for early voting, making absentee voting more difficult, and imposing photo-I.D. requirements at the polls, to name only the best known methods. In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court, with a majority of 5–4, gave Republicans the green light to continue their efforts by gutting the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby decision effectively ended the federal government’s supervision of voting rights in states, mostly in the South, that had histories of discriminating against minority voters.
North Carolina: Governor and legislators argue against allegations early voting plans in 5 counties violate court order | News & Observer
Attorneys for Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. legislators contended in a document filed in federal court on Friday that early voting plans in five counties do not run afoul of a federal appeals court ruling. The response came six days after a group of voters represented by Hillary Clinton’s campaign counsel sought emergency intervention. The voters are represented by Marc Elias, a Washington-based attorney who, in addition to working on Clinton’s campaign, has been involved with a number of high-profile cases challenging voting rights restrictions in recent years. They asked a judge to require the state Board of Elections to modify early voting plans in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Nash and New Hanover counties. But attorneys for the state argued that the counties – four of which leaned Democratic in the 2012 elections – were within the bounds of a ruling this summer by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidated much of a 2013 elections law overhaul.
In August, when a divided Supreme Court let stand an appeals court decision striking down North Carolina’s photo ID requirement for voters, the matter might have seemed settled. The provision, which requires voters to present government-issued photo identification, strikes directly at people who don’t have driver’s licenses — the state’s poor and disabled, young adults and the elderly, and particularly minorities. The Fourth Circuit Court pointed out that the law deliberately targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision,” and deemed it unconstitutional. Yet more than a month after the appellate court ruling and days after the Supreme Court decision, election officials in North Carolina’s Alamance County sent packets to newly registered voters advising them on one page that photo ID was still required and on another page that it wasn’t.
After a spree of favorable court rulings that softened or blocked Republican-passed voting restrictions, voting rights advocates are engaged in a new phase of trench warfare with a mere month left before November’s election and early voting in some places already underway. There was no time for civil rights groups to rest on their laurels after winning the high-profile legal challenges. In many states, such rulings were met with attempts to undermine or circumvent court orders meant to make it easier to vote. “You take a step back and it’s really appalling,” said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project who has been involved in many of the legal challenges to state voting restrictions. “I mean the Department of Justice and other groups, we have all won the cases … you would have thought we would have been finished with this whole thing, when, up until Election Day, we have to stay on these people,” Ho told TPM. At times, it’s hard to pin down whether issues red states have faced in implementing court orders have been motivated by bureaucratic incompetence or something worse. But the pattern is undeniable. In almost every state where voting rights advocates have scored a major legal victory in recent months, they have had to threaten to drag state officials back into court over the shoddy job election administrators have done following the rulings.
In the wake of a federal court decision overturning North Carolina’s “monster voter suppression law,” the NC-GOP’s executive director issued a call for “party-line changes to early voting” by the state’s Republican-controlled county boards of elections. Our review of the state’s early voting plan for this year finds that many boards did just the opposite. Still, a defiant band of renegades – the state’s New Jim Crow counties – did answer that call with cuts disproportionately falling on minority voters and promising election day chaos. But voting rights advocates are fighting back. The Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision overturned a key protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), instantly transforming North Carolina into the epicenter of the nationwide battle over minority voting rights. Within weeks of that decision (which freed the state from VRA’s requirement for federal oversight of changes to its election practices) North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly passed, and Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law, the state’s “monster voter suppression bill,” HB589. The law slashed early voting days, imposed a cumbersome voter ID requirement, and ended voter registration during the early voting period, among many other restrictions.
Legislation that would have created early voting in South Carolina died in the Statehouse this past year, but several Republicans and Democrats say one such proposal could gain traction next year. A House bill that would let voters head to the polls 15 days before primaries and general elections was supported by eight Republicans and seven Democrats as well as state party leaders. Passing such a bill would put the state in line with neighboring Georgia and North Carolina, both of which have early voting. Currently, if South Carolina voters wish to vote before Election Day they need to cite one of 16 reasons, such as work or vacation, in order to vote by absentee ballot, either through the mail or in person at their county election commission office.