North Carolina’s voter ID law struck down but questions remainBy Cash Michaels, Contributing Writer / August 4, 2016
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Democrats and activists who supported efforts by the N.C. NAACP and others to legally overturn parts of North Carolina’s “Monster Voting Law,” were certainly thrilled to hear last week that a three-judge federal appellate panel indeed struck down key elements of the 2013 measure, effective immediately.
“The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court [of Appeals] ruling [Friday] is a people’s victory and a victory that sends a message to the nation,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “The court found — under the sensitive inquiry required by law — that how the law was enacted and its impact made crystal clear that discriminatory intent impermissibly motivated this General Assembly.
“Under our Constitution, and under the core principles and dictates of the Voting Rights Act…” Rev. Barber continued, “… these provisions have no legitimacy under the law.”
In its ruling, the federal appellate court stated that the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly was racially-motivated with “discriminatory intent” in passing the 2013 voting restrictions, saying, that African Americans were targeted “…with almost surgical precision.”
“The Court’s decision reinforces that race-based decision-making in the electoral system will not stand,” said Penda D. Hair, lead attorney for the N.C. NAACP. “We know that voters of color rely most heavily on these voting measures, and that, without this decision, they would have borne the brunt of the burden this November.”
Unless a timely stay on the ruling is granted by the entire U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals before the November 8th General Elections (something Gov. McCrory and Republican leaders have vowed to seek, but legal experts say isn’t likely), then voters will have their early voting period restored to 17 days prior to Election Day instead of the current 10 days; maintain same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional balloting; reinstate voting pre-registration for 16 and 17 year-olds; and most importantly, not have to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.
This means Democrats no longer have to educate voters at rallies or by phone banks about making sure they have some form of official government-issued ID, or legal excuse for not having one. They can continue their door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods for candidates to GOTV. Now, not only should excessive long lines be eliminated during early voting and on Election Day, but voters can still have their ballots counted, even if they go to the wrong precinct.
But there’s a holdup as to how grassroots activists and others proceed in the aftermath of the momentous ruling. Local Boards of Elections (BOEs) have not met yet to determine how to carry out the appellate court’s mandate.
When asked about meeting, Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said, “We need to, and are awaiting direction from the N.C. Board of Elections and the executive director because whatever action does or does not happen, needs to come from their guidance.”
Ironically, all local BOEs were required to have their early voting sites locked in by July 29th, the same day the federal ruling came down.
Sims added, that while the 17-day early voting period is reinstated, the longer hours of operation per early voting location currently in force could be relaxed since the period is being extended from 10 to 17 days. But, exactly what to do with that seven-day extension would be up to local county BOEs.
One of the other challenges BOEs face is that they are already locked into budgets prior to the July 29th ruling. That reality will also constrain how quickly and adequately local BOE’s will be able to comply. Having only one early voting site open, namely the local BOE office itself and no satellite sites for the seven-day extension, is a possibility.
Prior to the July 29th ruling, voting rights advocates had been distributing materials educating voters about the photo ID requirement, which went into effect this year during the March and June primaries.
Now the community must also be clear that not all of the voter ID law was knocked down. They will still be faced with no straight-ticket balloting, meaning that instead of voting for all candidates of a single party with just one mark, voters will have to individually mark, race by race, which candidates they choose.
Critics of the 2013 law have always said that voters may not be aware of all of the candidates, especially during a presidential election year, and thus, only vote for a few of the major offices, leaving judicial or local races blank.
Another element of the 2013 “Monster Voting Law” left untouched is the provision that allows anyone from anywhere in the state, to confront any voter on line at a precinct, and challenge their right to vote.
That means the challenged voter is required by law to leave the line, and report to the precinct judge’s table with the challenger to answer questions about their voting qualifications.
Activists say they have to have a strong voter protection plan in force – observers making sure that people are educated, and that they are not intimidated at the polls.”
Cash Michaels is a journalist based in Raleigh, N.C.