ACLU and Southern Coalition for Social Justice File Challenge to North Carolina's Voter Suppression Law

August 12, 2013 12:00 am

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice today filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina's voter suppression law signed hours ago by Gov. Pat McCrory. The suit specifically 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 enacting these provisions, arguing that they would unduly burden the right to vote and discriminate against African-American voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"This law is a disaster. Eliminating a huge part of early voting will cut off voting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens and turn Election Day into mess, shoving more and more voters into even longer lines," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "Florida similarly eliminated a week of early voting before the 2012 election, and we all know how that turned out – voters standing in line for hours, some having to wait until after the president's acceptance speech to finally vote, and hundreds of thousands giving up in frustration. Those burdens fell disproportionately on African-American voters in Florida, and the same thing will happen in North Carolina. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of several North Carolinians who will face substantial hardship under the law, and on behalf of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute, North Carolina Common Cause, and Unifour Onestop Collaborative, 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.

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.

"Today's lawsuit is about ensuring that all voters are able to participate in the political process," said Allison Riggs, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. "Taken together, the new restrictions in this law will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, depriving many of our most vulnerable citizens from being able to easily exercise a constitutional right. Additionally, the Voting Rights Act prohibits the state from implementing voting changes that will make it harder for Black voters to cast a ballot – and that’s exactly what this law does."

Eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting also imposes hardship and silences the people’s voice. In recent elections, North Carolinians could register, or update their registration information and vote, in one trip to an early voting site. In 2012, approximately 250,000 people did so. The new law eliminates this opportunity to register, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands.

As for out-of precinct voting, for over a decade voters who accidentally cast a ballot in the wrong precinct could still expect to have their votes counted for races such as governor and president. If this law takes effect, those votes would be void.

"This law is a blatant attempt to make it harder for and dissuade many North Carolinians from registering and casting a ballot. As we have seen in other states, drastic cuts to early voting hours will result in longer lines and have a disproportionate impact on our state's most marginalized citizens, especially the low-income, elderly, and disabled who rely on early voting," said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina.

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.

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