North Carolina’s Tumultuous Voter ID Laws, Explained


In the lead-up to the 2016 election, North Carolina has seen sweeping changes to voting rules at the state and county levels.  In 2013, the legislature passed a law that removed the first week of the early voting period, shrinking it from 17 days to 10.  The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals later struck down the law, citing racial discrimination because large numbers of African-Americans voted during that period in the 2012 election who would likely be disproportionately disenfranchised to vote.  However, the court did not strike down every provision of the controversial bill. Local election boards—all of which were under control of Republicans—were encouraged to make more restrictive changes to their counties respective election rules. Many counties limited the number of hours early voting can take place, banned Sunday voting altogether, and tried to limit early polling places on college campuses.  As a result, 23 counties across the state have shortened daily hours for the sites, eliminated certain sites altogether, or cancelled Sunday early voting which, as State officials know, saw a high proportion of black voters during the 2014 midterm elections.

Another provision of the now-obsolete law required residents to present a photo ID at the polls, with some restrictions.  Specifically, the acceptable forms of ID were those less common among poor, non-white voters, like passports and driver’s licenses.  During the primary election in February, before it was struck down, the voter ID law also affected many Duke students’ ability to vote, particularly those from states other than North Carolina.  Those who had registered more than 90 days prior to the election could not use out-of-state IDs to vote.  With the law repealed, more students can vote in North Carolina, which could be crucial; according to FiveThirtyEight, the heavily-contested state has the fourth-highest chance of tipping the election, and Hillary Clinton projects to win by a mere 1.3 percentage points.

Every county elections board in North Carolina has an appointed Republican majority under the Pat McCrory administration.  The N.C. Republican Party actively instructed the boards to “make party line changes to early voting” in the aftermath of the court ruling.  With Democrats winning the early vote by 16 percentage points in 2012, and outnumbering registered Republicans by 20 percentage points among this year’s early voters, reducing early voting opportunities projects to benefit Republican candidates significantly, up and down the ballot.

Despite the reduced hours in those 23 counties, the first week of early voting saw approximately as many ballots as it did in 2012 across the state, and 150 more polling locations have opened up for the final 10 days.  Among those is Devil’s Den on Duke’s Central campus, where early voting runs until Saturday, November 5th.  The daily schedule can be found here.  Photo identification is not required, thanks to the same court ruling that reinstated the first week of early voting.  Unregistered voters can register on-site during early voting, but not on actual Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 8th.

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