North Carolina’s Republican-majority state legislature passed the restrictive law in August 2013, just two months after a conservative majority on the Supreme Court voted to gut key portions of the Voting Rights Act. One of the law’s most fervent supporters, North Carolina House Speaker Tom Tillis (R), is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) in her re-election bid this November.
With less than a month until midterm elections, the Supreme Court decision could cause confusion as state election officials scramble to alert the public of the changes. With same-day voter registration eliminated, all North Carolina residents were required to vote by October 10.
While the loss of out-of-precinct voting will make it harder for college students, in particular, to vote, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor warned that the confusion could significantly disenfranchise African-Americans voters, as well. In her dissent, Ginsburg pointed out that the appellate judge had concluded that the law “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise.” The dissent also noted that the sweeping election law changes would not have passed federal approval in the years before the court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act last year.
“Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the head of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday movement, in a statement after the ruling.
Equal voting rights remain a key issue around the country. Just days before the North Carolina ruling, the Supreme Court granted the state of Ohio permission to eliminate a week of early voting.
Two U.S. courts, however, in Texas and Wisconsin have struck down Republican-backed voter ID laws just weeks before November’s midterm elections. Critics argued the laws are illegal poll taxes on the poor.