The Supreme Court Wednesday night allowed North Carolina to implement for the coming election changes in the state’s voting law that an appeals court had blocked.
The action means that the state can eliminate same-day registration and not count ballots cast by voters who show up at the wrong precinct. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had blocked both changes because it said they would disproportionately affect African-American voters.
The Supreme Court’s order did not detail the majority’s reasoning. But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have kept the lower court’s order in place.
“The Court of Appeals determined that at least two of the measures — elimination of same-day registration and termination of out-of-precinct voting — risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Ginsburg wrote.
“I would not displace that record-based reasoned judgment.”
It was the second time in 10 days that the court had allowed a controversial change in voting laws to take effect in advance of next month’s midterm elections. By a 5 to 4 vote, the court said Ohio’s plan that cut back on early voting could move forward. In that case, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg and Sotomayor in disagreement.
The North Carolina legislature in 2013 imposed strict voter identification requirements, cut a week off early voting, prohibited local election boards from keeping the polls open on the final Saturday afternoon before elections, eliminated same-day voter registration and barred votes cast in the wrong precinct from being counted at all.
The 4th Circuit allowed some of those changes and others were not planned for this election. The voter ID requirement, for instance, is not to take place until 2016.
But it said the district court judge who had upheld all of the law “failed to recognize, much less address, the problem of sacrificing voter enfranchisement at the altar of bureaucratic (in)efficiency and (under-)resourcing.”
The state took the matter to the Supreme Court. Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) and other lawyers representing state legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said the appeals court ruling “requires extremely burdensome changes to the rules governing North Carolina elections only 22 days before the start of early voting” on Oct. 23.
Ginsburg noted that the North Carolina legislature had acted immediately after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act that determined which states must have their election laws pre-cleared by the Justice Department or federal judges to ensure they did not harm minorities. North Carolina was one of the states freed from that requirement.
The measures in the new North Carolina law, Ginsburg wrote, “likely would not have survived federal preclearance.”
Still pending at the Supreme Court is a challenge over Wisconsin’s new early voting restrictions.