Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned the 2013 omnibus elections bill passed by North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, which voting rights advocates referred to as a “monster” voter suppression law. The law contained dozens of provisions, some of which the court found intentionally discriminated against African Americans. It was passed shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination to get Justice Department preclearance for election law changes. North Carolina waited 17 days after the 4th Circuit’s ruling to file an “emergency” appeal with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, asking him to stay parts of the ruling, including those striking the photo ID requirement and expanding early voting from 10 to 17 days. The state also asked for a stay on reinstating a program approved in 2009 with bipartisan support that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.
The latter request in particular flummoxed some observers. Why would elected officials want to discourage young people — who have the lowest voting rates of any age group — from casting ballots? Twenty-eight states currently allow some form of preregistration.
“The repeal [of preregistration] fit a pattern of the conservative legislature targeting provisions in election law that helped more young people participate in politics,” said Bob Hall, executive director of elections watchdog Democracy North Carolina. Hall noted that the law also got rid of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, which were disproportionately used by youth. However, a previous court ruling temporarily reinstated those provisions.
In justifying their repeal of the popular program, which had over 160,000 participants during its four-year lifespan, North Carolina lawmakers argued that preregistration confuses teenagers. Hall noted that during the debate the only reason given came from state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican, who said his son was uncertain about whether he could vote when he preregistered.