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.
“There’s two things going on: One is that we have seen court-ordered softening [of voter ID laws] in places like Wisconsin and Texas, and then either foot-dragging or incompetence in carrying it out, which has led to follow-up lawsuits or threats of lawsuits,” said Richard Hasen, a professor at UC-Irvine School of Law who also runs the Election Law Blog. “The other thing that is going on is new shenanigans in response to court rulings. And that’s North Carolina.”
In North Carolina, the partisan-motivated chicanery has been perhaps most glaring. After an appeals court ruling restored a week of early voting –– in a monumental decision that said provisions of a 2013 North Carolina election law were passed with discriminatory intent — a handful of GOP-led county election boards sought to limit voting hours in the extra week to the bare minimum, apparently at the behest of a leaked memo sent by a state Republican Party official. Early voting is disproportionately popular among Democratic-leaning minorities.