Lawsuit Claiming Voter Suppression in North Carolina

October 29, 2019 by Dan McCue
The North Carolina State Capitol. (Via Instagram)

The Republican supermajority in the North Carolina legislature unlawfully banned early voting on the last Saturday before Election Day to suppress the black and Democratic vote, a lawsuit filed Tuesday claims.

The plaintiffs in the case, the North Carolina Democratic Party, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, note that in the last three presidential elections, more than half of the ballots cast in the state were cast during early voting.

“Although early voting is popular with voters across the state and from all backgrounds, certain groups of voters have embraced early voting with enthusiasm,” the lawsuit says.

Black North Carolinians in particular have cast their ballots during early voting at a higher rate than White North Carolinians. The same has generally held true for voters who are registered Democrats, as compared to non-Democrats, the plaintiffs claim.

“When these trends became apparent, Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly repeatedly set their sights on reducing and restricting early voting opportunities for North Carolinians, targeting voters who they perceive to hold unfavorable political views,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs allege the most recent attempt to do this was through the rushed passage of Senate Bill 325 in 2018.

The bill not not only outlawed early voting the Saturday before Election Day, but also made it more expensive for counties to operate early voting sites by imposing costly and rigid uniformity mandates on early voting hours and locations.

“Their efforts were so stealthy, in fact, that Republican legislators did not even consult with, let alone obtain the support of, the very county elections boards whose interests the bill’s sponsors claimed to champion,” the lawsuit says.

Although the measure was supposed to go into effect for the 2018 mid-term election, lawmakers backed down in the face of a huge backlash and allowed the election to proceed under the previously existing early voting rules.

However, they did not rescind the new rule and it is currently scheduled to go into effect prior to the 2020 election.

“With control of everything from the White House and Congress to the Governor’s mansion and the General Assembly on the ballot next year, it is vital that every voter can freely and easily make their voice heard,” North Carolina Democratic Party chair Wayne Goodwin said in a written statement. “North Carolina Democrats are committed to lowering hurdles to the ballot box, not erecting new ones, and we will never waver from our commitment to make voting easier and more accessible for North Carolina families.”

The plaintiffs note North Carolina enacted early voting in 1999, when the state was ranked 43rd for voter participation. In 2012, after early voting and a series of other measures steadily expanded access, the state jumped to 11th in the nation. 

“Every American’s right to vote is sacred and I am committed to ensuring more people across our country can freely access that right and have their voices heard,” said DCCC Chair Rep. Cheri Bustos. “I am proud to stand up for North Carolinians’ ability to vote early, and I look forward to the day where access to the ballot isn’t treated as a partisan issue, but rather a universal American value.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the law violates multiple sections of the North Carolina constitution, and to enjoin the legislature from putting it into effect.

“We all have an obligation to ensure Americans can cast their ballot fairly and that it will be counted, and we cannot allow partisan efforts to make it harder to vote,” said DSCC Chair and Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. “We are committed to protecting the early vote program so that North Carolinians may exercise their rights without unfair obstacles.”

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