Last month’s federal court ruling against North Carolina’s sweeping and restrictive voting law was hailed as a major victory for voting rights. But now the battle over voting in the Tarheel State is shifting to the local level — amid concerns that the court’s decision could let county election officials impose new schemes to limit access to the polls. Indeed, Francis De Luca, the head of a leading conservative think tank in the state, is publicly urging counties to do just that, saying making voting harder is just “partisan politics” — and that’s fair game. Jen Jones of Democracy North Carolina warned that could have serious consequences. “The prospect of having voters disenfranchised is still a clear and present danger here in this very new front in the war on voting rights,” she said. The focus on local-level rules comes as North Carolina prepares to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the July 29 appeals court ruling against the law, allowing the measure to stay in place for the election. The ruling by a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed several provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 voting law, including the law’s cutting of early voting days from 17 to 10, the elimination of same-day voter registration, and a voter ID requirement. The court found that Republican lawmakers had targeted black voters “with surgical precision.”
Most observers think it’s unlikely that the high court will intervene. But there are also fears that confusion over the state of the law, which has been fought over in court for nearly three years, could keep some voters away.
The stakes are high: North Carolina figures to be one of the closest states in the presidential race, as it was in 2008 and 2012. And Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is in a tight re-election race.
One result of the decision is that counties must now draw up new early voting plans providing 17 days of early voting. That has voting rights advocates worried that some counties could take the opportunity to cut early voting sites and reduce hours, even as they add the additional seven days — with the potential result that access for some voters could end up being not much better than it would have been under the GOP law.