The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's voter suppression law the very day it was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in August 2013. The suit targets provisions of the law that eliminate a week of early voting, end same-day registration, and prohibit "out-of-precinct" voting. It seeks to stop North Carolina from applying these provisions, arguing that they unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several individual North Carolinians who face substantial hardship under the law, and on behalf of organizations whose efforts to promote voter participation in future elections will be severely hampered if the measure takes effect.
North Carolinians use early voting in vast numbers. During the 2012 election, 2.5 million ballots were cast during the early voting period, representing more than half the total electorate. More than 70 percent of African-American voters utilized early voting during the 2008 and 2012 general elections.
For many voters, the choice is between early voting or not voting at all. Early voting provides flexibility in finding time to vote, and significantly eases the burden of arranging transportation to a voting site. This is particularly critical for low-income voters, who are more likely to have hourly-wage jobs that don’t afford them the time to get to the polls on Election Day or during common work hours. Work, combined with child-care responsibilities, places great demands on voters living in poverty. Poverty in North Carolina is higher among African Americans, meaning a reduction in early voting opportunities will disproportionately impact voters of color.
Eliminating same-day registration and out-of- precinct voting imposes hardship and silences the people’s voice. Until 2014, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information and vote, in one trip to an early voting site. In both 2008 and 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. African Americans disproportionately relied on same-day registration in both elections. As for out-of precinct voting, for over a decade voters who cast a ballot in the wrong precinct could still expect to have their votes counted for races such as governor and president. In 2016, the law’s photo ID requirement will become effective, creating another barrier to exercising the right to vote. The law eliminates these opportunities to register, vote and have votes count, effectively disenfranchising countless North Carolinians.
On August 8, 2014 the district court denied plaintiffs application to enjoin these provisions before the 2014 election, but on October 1, 2014, the Fourth Circuit appellate court reversed the ruling. On October 8, 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed the Fourth Circuit decision. At trial in July 2015, we presented witnesses who spoke of how the law has severely restricted ballot access for the most vulnerable citizens, particularly African-American voters. We are awaiting a decision by the district court judge.
The case, League of Women Voters of North Carolina et al. v. North Carolina, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
UPDATE May/June 2016: The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are appealing the April federal trial court ruling that upheld provisions of North Carolina's restrictive voting law. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arguments are scheduled for June 21 in Raleigh, N.C.
Intent to AppealApril 26, 2016
The ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice will appeal a federal trial court ruling that upheld provisions of North Carolina's restrictive voting law. The groups filed paperwork today announcing their intention to appeal last night's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Votes Not Counted: Day One of North Carolina’s Voter SuppressionJuly 14, 2015
The ACLU and other groups were in federal court for the first day of arguments against North Carolina’s 2013 voter suppression law, which many court observers have called the most restrictive voting law in the nation. Along with the ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the ACLU is representing the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other groups and individuals in a challenge to provisions of the law that eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting, and reduced the number of days when North Carolinians could vote early by an entire week. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, the majority of them African Americans, have relied on those measures to cast their votes in past elections.
The trial will feature dozens of witnesses who will explain how North Carolina’s new voting restrictions have severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-wealth voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly. Seventy percent of those who voted early were African American.
In a packed courtroom in Winston-Salem Monday morning, Judge Thomas Shroeder heard from several eligible African-American voters who cast ballots that were ultimately not counted under North Carolina’s law. Among those disenfranchised voters was Dale Hicks, a 39-year-old African-American Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan and registered to vote in North Carolina while stationed at Camp LeJeune in Onslow County. In 2014, Hicks moved to Raleigh, in Wake County. When he went to vote in that year’s election, he was told he could not vote in Raleigh because he had not updated his voter registration, but because he no longer lived in Onslow County, he could not vote there either. Hicks, who was honorably discharged from the Marines as a sergeant, was disenfranchised. If North Carolina still had same-day registration, he could have re-registered in Raleigh and cast a ballot that counted in the same election. Hicks told the court he was very upset that the state wouldn’t allow his vote to count. “Participation is very important to making our democracy work,” he said.
Sadly, Hicks’ story is not unique. During early voting in 2014, more than 11,000 North Carolinians submitted registration forms that, in earlier elections, would have allowed them to register and cast their ballot in one visit. But under the new voting law, those eligible voters were unable to cast a ballot that counts.
Early voting, same-day registration, and out-of-precinct voting make it easier for voters with financial, time, and transportation restraints to participate in elections. One such voter, Gwendolyn Farrington, an African American mother of three, testified that she was disenfranchised because she cast her ballot at the wrong polling location and was unable to cast an out-of-precinct ballot. During the 2014 election, Farrington was working 12 hours a day for six days a week on an assembly line that made car parts. Farrington testified that her employer allows “almost zero flexibility” in her work schedule, making it extremely difficult for her to find the time to cast a ballot. In years past, she has voted at the polling location closest to her job because it’s easier for her to access than the one where she is registered, which is about 30 to 45 minutes farther away. On Election Day, she went to her closest polling place after working a 12 hour shift to cast her vote. A poll worker told that even though she was out of precinct, she could cast a provisional ballot that would count. She was wrong. Farrington’s vote was not counted because of the 2013 law.
“I went to a polling site as a registered voter, and I thought that my provisional ballot would be counted,” Farrington told the court. “I’m very upset about [my vote not counting]. I’m a registered voter and other people such as myself have a right to vote like everyone else.”
North Carolina’s trial is expected to last two weeks. Stay tuned to this page for updates.
Changes to North Carolina's voter ID law before upcoming trial
Before the upcoming voter suppression trial, the North Carolina general assembly voted to allow voters without photo ID to cast an affidavit ballot which will allow them to vote without providing IDs.