In a split 4-4 vote Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to allow North Carolina to implement election law changes initially intended for the general election November 8. Instead, a federal appeals court decision that struck down a 2013 N.C. voting law will remain in effect.
How did we get here?
Back in 2013, the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory passed a set of election law changes. Some of the new rules:
- Requirement to show ID at the polls
- Reduction in early voting days from 17 to 10
- Elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds
- Elimination of the ability to vote in the wrong precinct
The law was immediately controversial, with opponents saying it was deliberately trying to keep black voters — who overwhelmingly vote Democratic — from the polls. The law was challenged through the courts, and the case has been winding its way through ever since.
In July, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, agreeing that it discriminated against African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”
The state launched an emergency appeal to keep the rule in place through the election. That’s what this decision Wednesday was about. The Supreme Court needed to have five votes to grant the state’s petition. They got four.
What changes this November?
1) You won’t have to show ID at the polls.
Since 2014, there have been signs at Charlotte polling places warning you that you’ll need to show ID to vote in the future. And during the primaries this spring, you actually did have to show ID. That will not be the case on the general election in November.
2) Early voting will begin the third Thursday before the election (October 20).
The voting law would have changed this to the second Thursday before the location, allowing for seven fewer early voting days.
This won’t cause a big change for Mecklenburg County, county elections director Michael Dickerson told the Agenda. The local elections board created its early voting plan knowing that the election law was likely not to go into effect.
What happens next?
The issue isn’t over. The Supreme Court decision only applies to the emergency appeal, not the regular appeal. Only four votes are needed for the high court to hear a case, which presumably they have. It’s unclear when this would happen — and whether a ninth justice will have been appointed by then (the seat has been vacant since Antonin Scalia died).
Locally, the specific early voting plan for Mecklenburg County is still up in the air. The elections board has put together a plan for opening six early voting sites for the first seven days and another 16 sites for the last 10 days, Dickerson said. This would be a reduction in total early voting hours, and it must be approved by the State Board of Elections. There’s also a dissenting plan before the state board.