NC voter ID ruling means another election disruption
Published 7:53 am Thursday, August 4, 2016
By Gary D. Robertson
RALEIGH (AP) — Television spots aimed at educating voters about North Carolina’s voter ID law are being canceled. One million informational posters and push cards are outdated and most likely headed for the trash. Binders carefully created as election bibles for each of the state’s 2,700 precincts need a heavy edit, with no time to waste.
Election officials are scrambling to comply with last week’s federal appeals court ruling striking down North Carolina’s voter photo identification mandate and other restrictions Republicans approved three years ago.
Photo identification was required for the first time in this year’s primaries, but barring another court decision, it is no longer mandated. The appellate ruling also extends early voting to 17 days, up from 10; and adds seven days of same-day voter registration.
Civil rights groups hailed the finding by a three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Republicans intended to discriminate against minorities by approving certain voting restrictions. Nonetheless, it marks yet another election disruption in the presidential battleground state, which also has big races this fall for governor and U.S. Senate.
The ruling effectively returns North Carolina to the rules it had before August 2013. But navigating the state’s election rules was already made more difficult by other federal court rulings against North Carolina this year, and some voters told The Associated Press that this latest ruling could add to the confusion.
“My first election was voting in the primaries. And if I didn’t have other people telling me, I wouldn’t have known what to do,” said Stephanie Brown, 23, a Duke University graduate student. “I think everyone should get something in the mail that says where they vote and what they should do beforehand. Because I think a lot of people don’t even know about the voter ID laws.”
Attorneys for Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature began trying to overturn the ruling on Wednesday, filing a motion asking the 4th Circuit to let the state keep turning away voters without photo IDs and imposing other limits while it prepares a Supreme Court appeal.
“Changes to the voting rules this close to the election, particularly the photo ID requirement that has been the subject of voter education efforts for two years, should not be changed at this late date,” the request reads.
Outside legal experts have said it’s a longshot the decision will be reversed before the November election.
For now, the State Board of Elections, which has spent about $1 million annually for three years to prepare the public for new voter requirements, must make a U-turn.
“Our hope is to ensure that these are being implemented as soon as possible, while understanding that appeals are pending,” said Josh Lawson, the board’s general counsel. “So it’s an interesting spot for our agency to be in.”
A statewide voters’ guide getting mailed to 4.3 million households had contained information on how to vote, including photo ID details. Now that information must be removed and replaced by next week, according to Lawson.
Two days of training next week for election officials in all 100 counties also must be retooled. Counties already finalizing plans for 10 days of early voting now must develop plans to cover 17 days. Counties may have to spend more on staffing the extra days and precinct worker training, according to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat trying to unseat McCrory this fall, said it’s most important that the old voting rules are back in place.
“When you make it easier for people to vote, I hope that that will outweigh the confusion,” Cooper said Tuesday. “The bottom line is that people will have more opportunities to register and vote.”
Cooper personally opposed the law and decided not to keep defending it after the 4th Circuit ruling. McCrory, who signed the 2013 law and whose lawyers filed Wednesday’s motion, blasted Cooper for giving up on the case.
“Why would anyone not want to have a photo ID law when it clearly worked in the primary?” McCrory said.
Already this year, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s congressional boundaries, which had to be redrawn before separate primaries in June. Voters in Wake County, which includes Raleigh, still don’t know how local government elections will be carried out following a decision striking down district boundaries.
“This is the most confusing election year that I can remember, just between the courts getting involved so much, to the nature of the race for president,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh.