A supporter of the North Carolina NAACP holds stickers for those gathered in the House chamber of the North Carolina General Assembly, Wednesday, April 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Portions of North Carolina’s massive voter suppression law will not be enforced this November, an appeals court decided Oct. 1.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction of key parts of the Republican-sponsored-and-approved H.B. 589. In the 2-1 decision, the three-judge panel gave a partial victory to civil rights groups, the Department of Justice and other parties who said the law had a disenfranchising effect on certain voters.
“The district court got the law plainly wrong in several crucial respects,” wrote Judge James A. Wynn Jr. in the majority opinion about the lower court’s earlier decision not to grant an injunction.
“The right to vote is fundamental,” he added. “And a tight timeframe before an election does not diminish that right.”
The court ordered an immediate preliminary injunction to block two provisions – the elimination of same-day registration and the prohibition of out-of-precinct ballots being counted – from taking effect in November’s election.
Leaders of the North Carolina NAACP, which had filed a challenge against the law and for the injunction to stay the law’s enactment until the lawsuit’s resolution, said they were grateful for the partial win.
“We are pleased with the Circuit Court’s ruling today,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, in a statement. “The evidence clearly showed that, under North Carolina’s voter suppression law, African Americans would have faced higher barriers to the ballot this November, and the Court took an important step to ensure that this election will remain free, fair, and accessible to all North Carolina voters.
“Our fight is not yet over, though,” he added. “We will charge ahead until this bill is permanently overturned in the full trial next summer. Until then, we will continue to take our movement to the streets to make sure all people in our democracy have an equal voice in this and all elections.”
The NAACP was joined in its fight by the Advancement Project, a civil rights group founded in 1999 by veteran civil rights lawyers.
“The Court’s decision means that voters who have relied on same-day registration and the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct will no longer have to worry about burdens on their right to vote this November,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair in a statement. “We know that voters of color rely most heavily on these voting measures, and they would have borne the brunt of the burden if same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were not allowed this November. While this partial injunction is an important first step, today’s decision is only the promising beginning of a long fight to fully restore the rights of North Carolina voters and renew the integrity of democracy in the state.”
HB 589 began solely as a restrictive photo ID requirement for voters. But after the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder disarmed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina Legislature quickly piled on a number of other voting impediments.
Several of those provisions were not covered in the injunction and will be in force during November’s election, including: a reduction of early voting days, the expansion of allowable voter challengers, a block on county elections officials from keeping polls open an extra hour on Election Day in “extraordinary circumstances,” the elimination of pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and the soft rollout of voter ID requirements which go into effect in 2016.