The long road ahead for voting rights

By Sharon McCloskey | Aug 14, 2013

State GOP lawmakers wasted no time ramping up their efforts to drastically change voting in North Carolina after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the requirement that certain jurisdictions get proposed voting changes pre-approved.

“Now we can go with the full bill,” Senator Tom Apodaca told WRALthat same day, referring to an omnibus voting bill that would do more than just require voter ID; it would reduce early voting, eliminate Sunday voting and ban same-day registration.

Go they did, pushing House Bill 589 through both chambers and on to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk for signature in just weeks and prompting voting rights advocates and even the Attorney General to warn that, by signing the bill into law, the governor would be casting the state into a protracted and costly battle in the courts.

And those groups wasted no time, after the governor signed H589 into law on Monday, hauling McCrory and the state into court, filing three separate lawsuits challenging the law.

“Our goal is to make sure that these voting changes never become law in North Carolina,” said Penda Hair, an attorney for the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, one of the groups filing suit.

But the flurry of activity by lawmakers and the swift reaction from voting rights advocates will now switch gears to the deliberate and often expensive plodding in state and federal courts, with trials leading to appeals, possibly even to the Supreme Court.

And in the interim, one if not two elections will take place.

“Whether or not the law violates the Constitution, or some other law, doesn’t determine whether or not it’s good policy,” said Justin Levitt, a voting rights expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “And North Carolina voters should remember that litigation is not the only recourse to bad policy.”

Earlier this week, voting rights advocates filed three separate lawsuits challenging the new law – two in federal court in Greensboro and one in Orange County Superior Court.

In Greensboro, the North Carolina NAACP and 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton – an African-American woman and veteran election activist whose ability to vote is threatened by the new law — sued the governor and members of the state election board.

Together they contend that the voter ID provisions, along with the shortening of the early voting period, the elimination of same-day registration, the rejection of out-of-precinct ballots, and the increase of poll observers and challengers likely to intimidate, disproportionately impact African-American voters, in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Also in Greensboro, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other groups and individuals sued the state, the governor and election board members, challenging the changes to the early voting period, the elimination of same-day registration, and the rejection of out-of-precinct ballots under the Equal Protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In both cases the groups are seeking an injunction delaying implementation of the law until their claims have been resolved by the court. They are also asking the court to subject the state to preclearance under the Section 3 “bail-in” provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs in the League of Women Voters case are not, however, challenging the voter ID provisions of the new law in federal court.

Instead, with the same lead counsel, the League of Women Voters, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute and other individual voters sued the state and the board of elections in state court, contending that the voter ID provisions impact a broad array of voters, including not only African-American and other minority voters but also women, seniors and college students, in violation of the state constitution.

- See more at: