In 2013, North Carolina drew national attention when it passed the nation’s most restrictive voting law—currently the subject of a challenge in federal court. The Republican-backed measure likely kept tens of thousands of voters, disproportionately minorities, from the polls last fall. But a subtler maneuver—and one that, until now, has largely flown under the radar—could throw up another major roadblock for non-white would-be voters next year, when the state figures to once again be a presidential battleground. Last year, North Carolina’s county election boards, which are controlled by Republicans, moved the location of almost one-third of the state’s early voting sites. Those changes, according to new data analysis by a consulting firm that was shared with MSNBC, will significantly increase the distance African-Americans have to travel to vote early, while leaving white voters largely unaffected.
In total, black voters will now have to travel almost 350,000 extra miles to get to their nearest early voting site, compared to 21,000 extra miles for white voters. That’s even though white voters make up 71% of the state’s electorate and blacks are just 22%. The average white voter will now have to travel just 26 feet further to vote early. For blacks, the equivalent figure is a quarter of a mile. “We never expected we would see such an enormous disparity,” said Bill Busa of insightus, a non-profit data analysis firm that produced the findings.
Local election administrators move the location of polling sites frequently, in order to better accommodate changing voting habits and serve voters more effectively. No one is alleging that the counties coordinated on a plan to make it harder for blacks to vote.
And, importantly, even after the changes, black voters are still closer to early voting locations on average than white voters (though blacks are more likely not to have a car, so they may still face a longer journey by time). Before the changes, blacks were 2.90 miles away while whites were 3.77 miles away, on average, according to Busa’s numbers. After the changes, blacks were 3.14 miles away while whites remained 3.77 miles away.