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NORTH CAROLINA

Candidates and Organizations

Voter Suppression Efforts in North Carolina

FEBRUARY 2020

A second court has temporarily blocked North Carolina’s new voter identification law on the argument that it discriminates against African Americans. The ruling reduces the likelihood that the rule will be in effect in a key swing state during November’s elections.

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JANUARY 2020

North Carolina: Republican legislative leaders have asked the federal court that recently blocked their voter ID law to stay its decision pending appeal. However, these GOP leaders aren't defendants in this case, and Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein has said over Republican opposition that he would delay appealing until after the March 3 primary to avoid confusion. But because the GOP is appealing the court's previous ruling that rejected their petition to intervene as defendants, Republicans are now arguing for a stay on the grounds that their appeal to intervene is still pending.

 

• North Carolina: A federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction blocking North Carolina's GOP-backed voter ID requirement, finding that the statute was likely enacted with discriminatory intent. A trial is expected to take place in the coming months.

This ruling comes three years after a previous voter ID law was struck down for what a federal court described as an effort to target black voters "with almost surgical precision." Republicans responded by placing a vaguely worded constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 to establish a new ID requirement. After voters approved the amendment, GOP lawmakers passed a statute implementing it in the lame-duck session of the legislature, over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.

In this latest court ruling, Judge Loretta Biggs said Republicans had sought to "circumvent" prior legal decisions. She noted that the current voter ID law excluded forms of identification that black voters were more likely to possess, such as certain types of government and public assistance IDs. She further observed that even nominally free IDs take time and access to transportation to obtain, which could be burdensome for low-income voters especially.

Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein announced that he will appeal the ruling. However, he said he would wait until after the March 3 primary to avoid any voter confusion, noting that absentee voting is set to begin in just under two weeks. While ordinarily an attorney general is tasked with defending state laws in court, Cooper, who was Stein's predecessor, declined to appeal the 2016 ruling striking down the GOP's original voter ID law to the Supreme Court, who in turn declined GOP legislators' pleas to hear the case. Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections has already begun informing the public that ID won't be required for the primary.

In addition, the amendment itself is facing a lawsuit. In a separate case, the NAACP has argued that because the legislature was improperly constituted since its members had been elected under illegally gerrymandered maps that were later struck down by the courts, lawmakers lacked the authority to amend the constitution. A state court agreed last year and struck down the amendment, but the state Court of Appeals has stayed the ruling while GOP legislators appeal.

December 2019 Redistricting

• North Carolina: Last last month, Republicans agreed to a legal settlement that will block yet another one of their gerrymanders, this time regarding their redrawing of the district court map in Mecklenburg County.

The consent order will see Mecklenburg County, a Democratic stronghold home to Charlotte and 1.1 million people, revert to electing every judge countywide. Last year, the GOP's gerrymander had broken up that at-large election system and drawn a number of heavily white districts designed to elect Republican judges in place of black Democrats.

The plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit argued that this gerrymander violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against black voters. The consent order only applies to 2020 and makes no legal conclusion as to whether the 2018 redistricting was illegal, but the fact that Republicans capitulated for this election cycle suggests the plaintiffs have a strong argument on the ultimate merits of the case.

This development now means that, since Republicans won the state legislature in 2010, their gerrymanders have been invalidated once or more at literally every level of government: Congress, the legislature, county commission, city council, even school board—and now judicial districts.

Meanwhile, although state-level litigation recently concluded that resulted in North Carolina Republicans passing a new and modestly fairer congressional map, the GOP had still been pursuing a federal lawsuit seeking to revive their previous gerrymander for 2020. However, a district court judge rejected the GOP's argument, ruling that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. Republicans have declined to pursue this suit further, meaning the new map is final.