A federal appeals court delivered some great news to North Carolina voters yesterday afternoon: they’ll be able to register and vote on the same day for the mid-term election!
This is a big victory! Same day registration consistently improves voter turnout, particularly for low-income voters and citizens of color. By protecting it, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has given thousands of North Carolinians a voice in the political process for this election. The attorneys, advocates, and plaintiffs who saw this success through deserve everyone’s thanks.
Until last year, North Carolina had some of the most progressive voting laws in the country, including same day registration, a three week early voting period, pre-registration for 16 and 17 years olds, and others. But one day after the Supreme Court, in Shelby Co. v. Holder, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act the state legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive elections bills.
The new state law eliminated reforms that for years had brought people to the polls. It put into place for 2016 a restrictive photo ID requirement that promises to further quash turnout.
And a federal district court let those changes stand, turning down requests from the NAACP, League of Women Voters, Common Cause, and others for a preliminary injunction to block the new law from taking effect for the November election. The district court acknowledged that official discrimination against African-Americans has resulted in socio-economic differences, with 34 percent living below the poverty line and 17 percent unemployed, but refused to stop the law from going into effect even though it would disproportionately affect black voters.
There’s no doubt about it: laws like the one North Carolina passed are designed to keep people of color from the polls.
Noting that the “right to vote is fundamental,” the appellate court reversed the lower one’s holding on same day registration and out-of-precinct voting (the counting of ballots mistakenly cast in wrong precincts), and reinstated the reforms for this upcoming election. A full trial on the merits of all the legislature’s cuts on voting is set for next year. The outcome will determine the state’s future electoral landscape, but eligible voters can rest assured for now that some of their state’s reforms will be in place this November.
Our country consists of a mish-mash of elections rules. Since Shelby, a number of states – both previously covered by the Voting Rights Act, and otherwise – have passed onerous and restrictive measures to keep voters away on Election Day. Final determinations on some – in Wisconsin and Texas – are still forthcoming. But the problems are already becoming clear. As we chip away at reforms that have a proven effect to increase turnout, particularly for those once marginalized in the political process, we further dampen the citizenry’s chance to shape this country’s priorities.
We need a better system. We need Americans to feel that they count and their voices are heard. We need uniform rules that ensure every eligible voter can cast his or her ballot. Bringing back the protections of the VRA through Congress’ enactment of the Voting Rights Amendment Act is the first step. The law worked for nearly 50 years to squash discriminatory practices before they took form, and it can again. Working proactively to implement, and safeguard, reforms like same day registration, early voting, and others is the second one. If we’re to have a real democracy – that adequately represents the interests of all – then everyone has to be at the table.
Office: Common Cause North Carolina