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.
The good news for North Carolina voting rights in 2016 was a July decision by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning HB589, finding that the law unconstitutionally “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
But the bad news is that Shelby still grants North Carolina’s political ne’er-do-wells a free hand to experiment with ever more creative means to suppress minority voters, leaving early voting – and the citizens who rely on it – in their crosshairs.
In North Carolina, early voting plans are redrawn every two years on a county-by-county basis, by county boards of elections that are, by law, dominated 2–to–1 by the current governor’s party (today, the GOP). Our review of all one hundred counties’ recently finalized early voting plans for 2016, detailed here, reveals that this year the war on minority ballot access has retreated to the county level, where a band of rebel counties have pushed back against what would otherwise be a broadly improved statewide voting climate.