Oct 9 3:36 PM

Supreme Court clears way for restrictive North Carolina voting laws

In move thought to disproportionately affect minority voters, a majority of justices said North Carolina can end same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.
Chris Keane / Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld another state’s bid to cut back on voting access in the Nov. 4 election. An unspecified majority of the justices told North Carolina it can go ahead with ending same-day voter registration and prohibiting out-of-precinct voting.

The decision overturns last week’s ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that ending those practices would discriminate against African-American voters, who had relied on them more heavily than whites.

The court issued its ruling Wednesday in an unsigned, single paragraph that did not explain its reasoning. The judgment follows a 5-4 ruling in late September that upheld sharp cuts to early voting in Ohio. It is expected to decide soon on another dispute over early voting in Wisconsin.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, argued that North Carolina’s restrictive new voting law would likely not have been allowed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, had that bill not been gutted by the Supreme Court last year in Shelby County v. Holder. The dissenting justices noted, as had the lower court, that the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature passed the omnibus bill the day after Shelby County ended its 48-year-old requirement to ask the federal government for permission to make such changes.

The speaker of that legislature’s lower house, Thom Tillis, is trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in the upcoming election. Eighty-three percent of black voters, and just 37 percent of white voters, back Hagan, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times/YouGov poll. Hagan enjoys a narrow lead in most major polls overall.

Tillis has said the bill was intended to boost confidence in elections, not stop any specific types of fraud.

Opponents of the North Carolina law blasted the court’s decision. “This is bad for democracy, and bad for voters. The new restrictions will affect turnout, especially for voters of color … and will create confusion at the polls,” said Allegra Chapman, elections director for Common Cause, which was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to block the law.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections took its victory in stride, issuing a press release telling voters that the new laws would be enforced. “We are highly motivated to ensure the public knows tomorrow is the hard deadline for registration,” board spokesman Joshua Lawson said Thursday.

While the Supreme Court’s decision all but guarantees the new rules will be in force on Nov. 4, the bill could still eventually be overturned. A trial on the full bill’s constitutionality is expected next year. Its best-known provision, which requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, is not scheduled to go into force until 2016.

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