WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Attorneys representing the U.S. Department of Justice and the state NAACP argued in U.S. District Court this morning that North Carolina’s new voting law would cause irreparable harm to black voters, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Black voters use many of the provisions targeted in the new law — early voting, same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting — at higher rates than whites, they argued. Not only that, those provisions that are being either reduced or eliminated were established to counter the long history in North Carolina of discriminating against blacks trying to vote, said Daniel Donovan, an attorney representing the state NAACP.
The U.S. Department of Justice, the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and other groups are seeking a preliminary injunction against the new law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act and referred to in hearings as House Bill 589, from taking effect during the Nov. 4 general election.
Under the new law, the number of days for early voting is reduced from 17 to 10; same-day voter registration is eliminated; and ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct can no longer be counted. The new law also gets rid of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, increases the number of poll observers that are assigned by political party and allows a registered voter in a county to challenge the right of another person to vote.
Critics have alleged that Republican legislators hastily passed the law after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional, thus weakening Section 5 that required federal approval for voting changes in specific states and communities.
One of the allegations is that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th, 15th and 26th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder asked a number of questions about what kind of precedent he might be setting if he ruled in favor of the preliminary injunction. He asked specifically whether other states could be vulnerable to legal challenges simply because those states either took away something like early voting or never offered it in the first place because that change might disproportionately affect black voters.
Donovan said that states develop their election systems in different ways. He said Schroeder should look at the particular circumstances surrounding North Carolina, including the history of voting discrimination and the specific ways in which the new voting law was passed.
Schroeder also said he is particularly interested in evidence that would show how blacks would be harmed if the law is allowed to stay in place for the November election. He asked several questions about the May primary, in which people voted with many of the provisions of the new law in place.
Donovan said that it would be unfair to compare the May primary with what might happen in November because primaries tend to have much lower voter turnout. There will likely be higher voter turnout in November, partly because of a hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the current speaker of the N.C. House and one of the main architects of the new voting law.
Schroeder has said that he will have to leave at 3 p.m. today. It’s unclear whether the arguments will finish by then. If not, then the case would continue Monday.