NC voting law challengers want court to expand early voting in Nash, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and New Hanover counties

Plaintiffs who sued to overturn the state's 2013 voting law says the court should expand early voting in five counties.

Posted Updated
State Board of Elections
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Plaintiffs who successfully convinced the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down large swaths of North Carolina's 2013 voting law are asking federal judges to expand early voting in five counties, including the areas encompassing Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington.
The 4th Circuit ruled this summer that much of North Carolina's voting law, including a portion that limited in-person early voting to 10 days, unconstitutionally limited voting options for minority voters. As a result, county boards of election across the state had to create 17-day early voting plans in August.
Roughly a third of the state's 100 counties could not come to a unanimous agreement on how those plans should look. Those cases went before the State Board of Elections in early September. The state board used an all-day meeting to impose new voting plans on the counties that were in conflict.
Lawyers representing the League of Women Voters filed a motion and supporting material on Saturday that five plans either approved by the state board or unanimously approved by local boards skirted the intent of the 4th Circuit's order in the voting rights case. They have asked the court, as part of its ongoing oversight of NAACP v. McCrory, to expand early voting in Nash, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and New Hanover counties.

"The challenged plans are blatant attempts to make an end run around McCrory and this Court’s injunction," lawyers for the league wrote in their brief. "They seek, at least in part, to accomplish on a county-by-county basis what the Fourth Circuit barred the General Assembly from doing through SL 2013- 381: suppressing African-American voting strength by limiting access to early voting and SDR without legitimate justification. To 'fully correct' and 'eliminate root and branch' the State’s racially discriminatory effort to suppress the vote of African Americans, the Court should order these plans be modified."

Early by-mail voting is already underway in the state. The "one stop" early in-person voting period is set to begin Oct. 20. Before in-person voting begins, the plaintiffs have asked the court to order:
  • Nash County to open "early voting at the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount during the first seven days of the early voting period." That early voting site is closed during the first week of early voting under the current plan. It is in a heavily minority area, according to court documents, and closing it puts early voting "out of reach for many (and a disproportionately large share) of Nash’s African-American voters."
  • New Hanover County to open early voting on Sunday hours. Sunday voting is often used by African-American churches to move "souls to the polls."
  • Mecklenburg County to expand early voting on the last Saturday until 5 p.m. Mecklenburg's early voting plan was one of the most hotly debated during the state board's meeting. "I think this is going to be the poster child for what not to do," Democratic board member Joshua Malcolm said during the meeting.
  • Guilford County to open more than one polling site during the first week of early voting and to ensure "a sufficient number of locations to adequately serve Guilford County voters, but in any case no less than the number of locations available for voters in 2012, and including those locations that were heavily used by African-American voters."
  • Forsyth County to expand early voting to Sundays, open multiple locations during the first week of early voting and open an early voting site on the Winston-Salem State University Campus.

Although this lawsuit is putatively a nonpartisan fight over election laws, making changes to early voting locations could have big consequences for the election. Democrats have disproportionately used early voting, and expanding the number of early voting opportunities could mean more Democratic-leaning voters weigh in during the early voting period.

The state's Republican Party sent a missive on Saturday saying that the filing represents Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton sticking "a finger in the eye of the people of North Carolina." Marc Elias, one of the lawyers who helped bring the suit, is a general counsel for the Clinton campaign. However, the campaign itself is not a party in the case.

"This shows that Hillary Clinton will do anything to get elected, including suing the people of the state she seeks to represent and sucker-punching Democrat election board members," North Carolina Republican Party director Dallas Woodhouse said in the statement. "It also shows that Clinton plans to continue Obama's massive federal government overreach."

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