The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear North Carolina’s appeal to reinstate their restrictive 2013 voting laws that had previously been struck down by a federal appeals court.
In September, the Court had deadlocked on an emergency pre-election request to restore parts of the voting laws, stopping them from going into effect for the November 2016 election.
A July 2016 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down key provisions of the 2013 law, arguing that it was passed by the state legislature with racially discriminatory intent “in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting.”
The ruling invalidated a number of provisions of the law, including the voter identification requirement and limits the state placed on early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration. The provisions targeted African Americans with surgical precision. For example, the appeals court stated that the list of limited types of identification that would have been accepted at the polls “retained only those types of photo IDs disproportionately held by whites and excluded those disproportionately held by African Americans.”
North Carolina’s voting laws were passed in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively dismantled parts of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, giving the federal government less oversight over voting regulations in states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls.
Following the Court’s decision not to let the laws go into effect for the November election, many allegations of unethical voter suppression began coming out of North Carolina. Many of the state’s 100 local election boards that were responsible for filing their own election rules found ways to suppress minority voter participation. For example, though the appeals court ordered all counties to re-instate early voting from 10 days to 17 days, they placed no other requirements on how those 17 days were to be regulated. As a result, areas such as Lenoir County in the rural eastern portion of the state where 40 percent of the population is black had one early voting location in a county stretching over 403 miles.
Other counties re-instituted the 17 days of early voting, but severely cut the hours they were open, with some completely eliminating operations on Sundays, a day African American communities have historically gone together to the polls.
Nearly a week before the 2016 election, voting rights protectors, including the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, filed a federal lawsuit alleging that three North Carolina counties—Moore, Beaufort and Cumberland—illegally purged thousands of voters from the registration rolls, a disproportionate number of whom were African American.
The emergency petition claimed that thousands of people had their voter registration canceled after a third party organization claimed the voters’ addresses had changed, under a state law that “allows any person to revoke any other person’s right to vote by gathering mail that was returned as undeliverable, then challenging the voter registration of residents at those addresses. If voters do not appear at a county board of elections or return a notarized form, they are removed from the voter rolls, often without their knowledge.” All of three counties removed voters after the 90 day cut-off prohibition in violation of the National Voter Registration Act.
The Justice Department (DOJ) was forced to send DOJ officials to four North Carolina counties to monitor the election, but the drama did not end on November 8.
North Carolina’s incumbent governor, Pat McCrory, refused to concede to his Democratic challenger, Roy Cooper, for nearly a month, claiming without evidence that voter fraud had taken place and insisting on a recount, which became impossible once Cooper’s lead swelled to over 10,000 votes, the margin at which North Carolina will no longer conduct a recount.
In his desperate quest to prove non-existent voter fraud, a voter that McCrory tried to claim was dead was found to be very much alive, and two voters that McCrory accused of being convicted felons were determined not to be felons at all. In his concession speech, McCrory refused to acknowledge that no foul play took place, even as many accused him of doing everything in his power to demean the integrity of the state’s election process.
Media Resources: New York Times 5/15/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/29/16, 9/1/16, 11/4/17, 12/5/16; Slate 11/3/17;