A federal appeals court blocked North Carolina’s effort to end same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting – methods disproportionately used by minority voters – overturning a decision by a lower court just last month.
In a 2-1 decision issued yesterday, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that these provisions of H.B. 589, the voter suppression measure signed into law by Republican Governor Pat McCrory last year were likely to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), which explicitly bans race or language-minority based disenfranchisement.
“Everyone in this case agrees that Section 2 has routinely been used to address vote dilution – which basically allows all voters to ‘sing’ but forces certain groups to do so pianissimo,” Judge James Wynn wrote for the majority. “Vote denial is simply a more extreme form of the same pernicious violation – those groups are not simply made to sing quietly; instead their voices are silenced completely.”
Elimination of same-day voter registration would have a disproportionate impact on African American voters in North Carolina. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than 70 percent of African-American voters used early voting in 2008 and 2012, and as Judge Wynn highlighted, a disproportionate number of African Americans availed themselves of same-day registration. In 2012, 13.4 percent of African Americans who voted early in the state used same-day registration, versus 7.2 percent of white voters; in 2008, 13.1 percent of African Americans used this system versus 8.9 percent of whites.
The appeals court ruling means that during the early voting period, voters in North Carolina will, for this election at least, be able to register to vote and vote on the same-day, at the same early voting site. The early voting period runs between October 23 and November 1. A North Carolina voter will also be allowed to cast a ballot even if they are out-of-precinct, so long as she is otherwise eligible to vote.
“This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the organizations that filed the case. “The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation.”
Citing possible voter confusion, the North Carolina Board of Elections announced that the state would appeal the Fourth Circuit’s decision to the US Supreme Court as soon as Thursday.
Media Resources: Charlotte Observer 10/2/14; Politico 10/1/14; US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit 10/1/14; American Civil Liberties Union 10/1/14; North Carolina State Board of Elections 10/1/14; Feminist Newswire 8/11/14