A federal court in North Carolina is now hearing testimony in a case that could have an impact on the rollback of voting rights across the country. At the start of this decade, North Carolina’s voting laws were a model of inclusion. The state allowed 17 days of early voting, teenagers who were approaching voting age could pre-register to vote, there was same-day registration and voters could even cast ballots outside their assigned precinct. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was also required to contact drivers about being registered when they reported an address change. Then, three things happened. First, a Republican tide swept through the North Carolina legislature in 2010. Next, after the 2010 Census, the legislature drew a congressional district map that some have called the most gerrymandered in the country. The gerrymandering worked; most of the state’s Democratic voters were packed into a few odd, snake-like districts. Democrats won only four congressional seats in 2012, when the state’s registration and voting numbers indicated they should have won seven.
Then, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (pdf), killing Section 5, which required that several states pre-clear any changes to their voting laws to ensure they weren’t discriminatory. North Carolina was one of the states that had been subject to pre-clearance.
Granted free rein from the Supreme Court to see how far they could go to keep those likely to vote Democratic away from the polls, North Carolina’s legislators, with the help of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, went to work. Early voting days were cut from 17 to 10. Pre-registration was done away with, as was same-day registration and the ability to cast ballots in another precinct. In addition, a tough voter identification law was enacted.
The state was sued in federal court over the changes. The judge, George W. Bush appointee Thomas Schroeder, refused to stay the changes in the laws for the 2014 election. That election went as one might have predicted—many who had voted for years were prevented from casting ballots because they had no birth certificate, or couldn’t obtain IDs after multiple attempts.