A federal judge in North Carolina handed a major victory to local Republicans Monday, upholding a swathe of changes to election rules in the swing state. Activists say the changes disproportionately affect people of color, denying tens or even hundreds of thousands of people their right to vote.
In 2013, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Shelby County v Holder, throwing out large parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—including requirements that nine, mostly southern states gain federal approval before changing election laws. The restrictive North Carolina law to which Monday’s decision pertains (HB 589) was passed just days later. From the New York Times:
The opinion, by Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, upheld the repeal of a provision that allowed people to register and vote on the same day. It also upheld a seven-day reduction in the early-voting period; the end of preregistration, which allowed some people to sign up before their 18th birthdays; and the repeal of a provision that allowed for the counting of ballots cast outside voters’ home precinct.
It also left intact North Carolina’s voter identification requirement, which legislators softened last year to permit residents to cast ballots, even if they lack the required documentation, if they submit affidavits.
The plaintiffs in the case, which include the Justice Department, the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, plan to appeal the decision to the Fourth Circuit. “We’re disappointed in the ruling, reviewing the decision carefully and evaluating our options,” a DOJ spokeswoman, Dena Iverson, said.
“We believe that the legislature intentionally passed a law that would discriminate against African Americans and Latinos, and potentially one of the reasons is the rising electorate and more participation by people of color,” Donita Judge, an attorney representing the NAACP in its suit against North Carolina, told the Guardian earlier this year.
“Of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, seven of them have new laws in place,” Jonathan Brater, counsel for the voting rights nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice, said. Altogether, according to the Brennan Center, seventeen states will have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 presidential election. Some 218,000 (largely African-American) registered voters lacked an acceptable form of government identification in North Carolina’s primary, the Nation reported last month.
“North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system,” Schroeder, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, wrote in his decision.
“There is significant, shameful past discrimination,” he continued. “In North Carolina’s recent history, however, certainly for the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider.”