A North Carolina federal court upheld the state’s massive voting restrictions passed in 2013, taking North Carolina from one of the best pro-voter states in the country to one of the worst.
Civil Rights groups led by the state NAACP, allege that House Bill 589 discriminated against poor and minority voters in violation of the Constitution and U.S. Voting Rights Act. The controversial bill’s most extreme provisions impose strict photo ID requirements, end same-day registration, cut early-voting by seven days, bar election officials from counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and end pre-registration for 16 year olds. If allowed to stand, the impact of this bill on future elections will be devastating.
Less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina signed HB 589 into law. By the slimmest of margins (5-4), the Court in Shelby v. Holder gave states such as North Carolina, with a history of discrimination, a free pass in ruling that federal approval was no longer needed for voting changes affecting minorities. Sadly, until Congress acts to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, we can expect more states to continue to erect barriers to the ballot box.
Plaintiffs have vowed to appeal North Carolina’s voter suppression bill to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Let’s hope this time they are successful in stopping these relentless attacks on voting rights. Federal courts are often the only protections to ensure that our elections are free, fair and accessible to all.
Meanwhile back in Ohio, lawmakers are busy trying to limit the very voting protections that courts can provide. On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate Civil Justice Committee heard proponent testimony for SB 296, which is designed to stop courts from extending polling hours when voting has been impaired by power outages, technology glitches, ice storms, or other unexpected conditions. The bill was prompted by two recent court rulings out of Cincinnati, which ordered polls to stay open late in November 2015 (due to problems with electronic poll books), and March 2016 (due to a severe interstate traffic accident). In a stunning move, the bill would require plaintiffs to post a cash bond footing the entire cost of keeping the polls open later. In Hamilton County, the Nov. 2015 overtime personnel costs alone were $58,500. That money would be forfeited if an appeals court later determines the polls should not have been kept open longer.
Although the bill does waive the cash bond if a plaintiff is indigent, voting time would be extended only for that individual voter. When questioned if the bill will deter low-income people from fighting for their right to vote, bill sponsor Sen. Bill Seitz responded, “So what?” Secretary of State Jon Husted also submitted testimony in full support of the bill. Opponent testimony and possible committee vote may come as early as next week.