Wait and see after N.C. voter ID ruling

Wait and see after N.C. voter ID ruling
August 04
09:00 2016



Eric Ellison, chairman of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, is “overjoyed,” anticipating an even better GOTV (get out the vote) effort going into November.

Linda Sutton, interim secretary for the Forsyth County NAACP and field organizer for the non-partisan advocacy group, Democracy North Carolina, is also very pleased, but in a holding pattern like everyone else.

Sutton and Ellison, like most 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 the 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 …” 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 NC 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 Nov. 8 general elections (something Gov. Pat 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 ballot-ing; 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.

For Ellison, this means county 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, as they have since June.

“It’s a great relief to know that our [legal] system does work,” Ellison said, noting that at least six laws by the Republican-led General Assembly have been found unconstitutional by the courts since the GOP takeover in 2011.

“The pressure valve has been released,” Ellison added, also noting that in case there was no positive ruling before November, his county party was instructing voters to make sure their voter registration was up-to-date, and to even use the absentee- balloting process in order to lessen the prospect of long lines at the polls.

Now, not only should excessive long lines be eliminated, but voters can still have their ballots counted, even if they go to the wrong precinct.

But, like other activists who’ve worked hard to overturn voter ID, Sutton is now waiting to see how the Forsyth County Board of Elections (BOE) is going to proceed. How will it implement the changes brought about by the ruling in terms of early voting and same-day registration?

“We’re awaiting the Board of Elections meeting so that we can have some input, as usual, into early voting. So I want to get that over with first, she says.”

The problem is there is no word as to when that Forsyth BOE meeting will take place because, as of press time Tuesday, there has been no further instructions from the state Board of Elections, which effectively determines policy for all 100 county BOE’s across the state.

“We need to, and are awaiting direction from the N.C. State Board of Elections and the executive director,” confirmed Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, 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 29, 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 BOE boards, like Forsyth.

One of the other challenges Forsyth and other local BOEs face is that they are already locked into budgets prior to the July 29 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 29 ruling, Sutton had been dis-tributing materials educating voters about the photo ID requirement, which went into effect this year during the March and June primaries.

“Now we have to go back and educate people that they do not need the photo ID,” she added, say-ing that 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 any-one from anywhere in the state to confront any voter in 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.

“Those are still current challenges that we have,” Ellison said. “So we 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.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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