Why North Carolina’s election rules are once again facing scrutiny

A federal appeals court on Tuesday is set to consider North Carolina’s election law, which some say make voting difficult for poorer residents.

Morry Gash/AP/File
A lone voter takes part in early voting in Milwaukee.

A suite of voter laws in North Carolina are under renewed scrutiny Tuesday as a federal appellate court is set to hear concerns that the state's newest measures discriminate against poor people and minorities.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will review several controversial policies enacted in North Carolina in recent years, including an end to same-day voter registration, prohibition of out-of-precinct voting, and elimination of the first week of early voting.

The most closely watched aspect of the case, however, will likely be the review of the state's 2013 voter ID requirement, as 17 other states have similar laws that critics say could result in a decreased voter turnout in the November presidential election. Research suggests that 3 million American registered voters do not have a government-issued ID. Proponents of the law, including North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, say it reduces election fraud.

“Even if the instances of misidentified people casting votes are low, that shouldn’t prevent us from putting this non-burdensome safeguard in place,” Governor McCrory wrote in a column for North Carolina's News and Observer.

Just after the bill was signed into law, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the bill on the grounds that it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act. The NAACP and Advancement Project filed their own lawsuits soon after, the Huffington Post reported. 

The law came after the US Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voter Rights Act by a 5-4 vote, which required that Southern states with a history of racial discrimination – seven in total – have their laws cleared by the US Department of Justice. The 2010 election results, which gave Republicans full control of 21 states, also contributed to the passage of this law.

“Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions,” US Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

Civil rights groups, however, argue this North Carolina law does not reflect “current conditions.” Instead, they say it is a step in the wrong direction.

“While the precise impact of these new batch of voter-ID laws on this year’s election turnout remains at large, [Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights project] says that is beside the point," the Christian Science Monitor's Cathaleen Chen reported in March. "Former US Attorney General Eric Holder cited in 2012 that 25 percent of African Americans and 8 percent of whites do not have government-issued photo IDs.”

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP described the voter ID requirement as a "monster voter suppression law," that disenfranchises African-Americans and students. "Yet, the court upheld the most sweeping retrogressive voter suppression that we have seen since the 19th century and Jim Crow. Their decision is wrong,” he told Think Progress in April.

In the court filings, the Obama administration said the law was passed to “preserve partisan political control.” Those whose ability to vote would be inhibited by the law are more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.

The law is being contested under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and a section of the Voter Rights Act that prohibits laws that discriminate against minorities.

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