North Carolina’s new voting law that, among other things, reduces early voting hours and eliminates same-day voter registration will be in place for the November elections, a federal judge ruled late Friday. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder denied a preliminary injunction barring the use of the laws, saying that the U.S. Department of Justice, the state NAACP and others had failed to show that the law would have such “irreparable harm” to blacks, young people, other racial minorities and poor people that it should be blocked for the November election. That election features the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the House and one of the main architects of the new law. Schroeder also denied a request by the Justice Department to have federal observers in North Carolina for the November election. But Schroeder also declined to dismiss the trio of lawsuits filed last year, which included the League of Women Voters, the state NAACP, the Justice Department and individual plaintiffs such as Emmanuel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The lawsuits, which challenge the constitutionality of North Carolina’s voting law, are scheduled for trial in July 2015.
Friday’s decision comes about a month after a closely-watched four-day hearing in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. The hearing featured testimony from state officials, Democratic legislators, experts and black voters who said they would be burdened by voting changes that Republican legislators passed in 2013. The law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act and referred to in lawsuits as House Bill 589, includes a number of provisions.
The most well-known is the requirement that voters, starting in 2016, must present a photo ID. But the law also reduces the number of days for early voting from 17 to 10, eliminates same-day voter registration, prohibits county officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct, gets rid of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and increases the number of poll observers that each political party assigns during an election. The law also allows a registered voter in a county to challenge another voter’s right to cast a ballot.
Failed to show ‘irreparable harm’
Plaintiffs argued that many of the provisions eliminated or reduced were adopted to address North Carolina’s long history of discrimination against black voters and that Republicans knew that by targeting those provisions for elimination or reduction, the new voting law would disproportionately affect black voters. In April, the House considered and passed a Voter ID law, but after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a part of the Voting Rights Act that required some states and counties to get federal approval for voting changes, Republicans pushed through an expanded 57-page omnibus elections bill, plaintiffs said.