Under the Dome

NC lawmakers contend that challenged early-voting plans comply with court ruling

Donovan Cruz (left) and Jeanne Marshall vote at the Central Piedmont Community College Facilities Services building in Charlotte Thursday, March 3, 2016, the first day of early voting in North Carolina. It is the first NC election where a photo ID is required to vote.
Donovan Cruz (left) and Jeanne Marshall vote at the Central Piedmont Community College Facilities Services building in Charlotte Thursday, March 3, 2016, the first day of early voting in North Carolina. It is the first NC election where a photo ID is required to vote. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Attorneys for Gov. Pat McCrory and N.C. legislators contended in a document filed in federal court on Friday that early voting plans in five counties do not run afoul of a federal appeals court ruling.

The response came six days after a group of voters represented by Hillary Clinton’s campaign counsel sought emergency intervention.

The voters are represented by Marc Elias, a Washington-based attorney who, in addition to working on Clinton’s campaign, has been involved with a number of high-profile cases challenging voting rights restrictions in recent years.

They asked a judge to require the state Board of Elections to modify early voting plans in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Nash and New Hanover counties.

But attorneys for the state argued that the counties – four of which leaned Democratic in the 2012 elections – were within the bounds of a ruling this summer by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that invalidated much of a 2013 elections law overhaul.

In that ruling, the federal appellate judges said the voter ID portion of the overhaul and other limitations on early voting, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were set up with “almost surgical precision” to limit the African-American vote.

North Carolina has been described this presidential election year as a battleground state that could swing red or blue, depending on voter turnout.

The challengers have sought longer hours on the last day of early voting in Mecklenburg.

They argued that cutting early voting on Sundays in Forsyth County was discriminating against black voters because many of the African-American churches have “souls to the polls” events then.

They argued that Guilford County should have more early voting sites opened during the week.

The focus in New Hanover was on Sunday voting, and in Nash, the challengers contended that Rocky Mount residents should have an early voting site during the first week of early voting that is inside town limits.

Early voting is set to begin on Oct. 20.

The challengers had asked the federal judge to issue a ruling by Oct. 7. The judge issued an order earlier in the week, telling state officials they had until 3 p.m. Friday to respond to the emergeny filing.

The judge, however, did not say when a ruling would be issued.

Early in-person voting is very popular in North Carolina, used by more than half of the people casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election, when it covered 17 days. Its use could make a crucial difference on Nov. 8.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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