State Politics

NC early voting plans challenged in 5 counties with aid from Clinton campaign counsel

Precinct workers prepare for early voting at the CPCC Facilities Services building in the March primary.
Precinct workers prepare for early voting at the CPCC Facilities Services building in the March primary. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

A group of voters represented by Hillary Clinton’s campaign counsel filed an emergency request in a North Carolina federal court over the weekend asking a judge to require the state Board of Elections to modify early voting plans in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, Nash and New Hanover counties.

Marc Elias — a Washington-based attorney who in addition to working on Clinton’s campaign has been involved in several high-profile voting rights cases — is representing the voters who have filed as intervenors in a case initially brought by the state NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

The voters seeking to intervene contend that the five counties are not fully complying with 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 designed with “almost surgical precision” to limit the African-American vote.

To bolster their contentions, the attorneys mentioned a message that Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, sent in August to GOP appointees to county elections boards to “make party line changes to early voting” by limiting the number of hours and keeping polling sites closed on Sundays.

Four of the five counties included in the Saturday court filing leaned Democratic in 2012, voting for President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, who narrowly won in North Carolina that year.

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

Presidential candidates Clinton and Donald Trump have made several visits to the state, and an average of recent polls has shown them to be close, with Trump having a slight lead.

Among the requests included in the weekend court filing, the challengers are seeking longer hours on the last day of early voting in Mecklenburg.

In Forsyth, the challengers argue that cutting early voting on Sundays is discriminating against black voters because many of the African-American churches have “souls to the polls” events then.

In Guilford, the challengers hope to get more early voting sites opened during the week.

The focus in New Hanover is on Sunday voting, and in Nash, they argue that Rocky Mount residents are being forced to travel too far to rural sites during the first week of early voting, with no sites opened in the more heavily populated town.

Early voting is set to begin on Oct. 20.

The challengers have asked the federal judge to issue a ruling by Oct. 7.

“We are reviewing the filings with an eye toward how soon early voting starts.” Josh Lawson, counsel for the State Board of Elections, said on Sunday.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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