The first presidential election in more than half a century without the protections of the Voting Rights Act kicks into even higher gear over the next 12 days. And voters in several of the states with upcoming contests could face barriers to the polls. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Ohio are all among the states that hold primaries or caucuses between Saturday and March 15, and all have new voting restrictions in place. Nominating contests tend to attract fewer voters, and a more engaged crowd, than the general election, so the immediate impact may be limited. But what happens could offer warning signs about problems that could arise on a much larger scale in November. Already, voting restrictions and administrative snafus in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, among other states, appear to have disenfranchised would-be voters.
Voting rights advocates will be looking closest at North Carolina, which holds its primary on March 15, though early voting is already underway. Weeks after the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the state’s GOP-controlled legislature passed a multi-pronged crackdown on voting. In effect for the first time in a presidential election will be the law’s ID requirement, its ban on voting in a different precinct and its reduced early voting periods, among other provisions. The law also eliminated the state’s same-day registration period, but that period survives while the law is being challenged in the courts by the U.S. Justice Department and voting rights groups.
A progressive group estimated that around 30,000 people were disenfranchised by the law in the November 2014 midterms—and that was before the ID requirement went into effect. North Carolina is again shaping up as a pivotal swing state in the 2016 presidential election.