The ACLU and other groups were in federal court for the first day of arguments against North Carolina’s 2013 voter suppression law, which many court observers have called the most restrictive voting law in the nation. Along with the ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the ACLU is representing the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and other groups and individuals in a challenge to provisions of the law that eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting, and reduced the number of days when North Carolinians could vote early by an entire week. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, the majority of them African Americans, have relied on those measures to cast their votes in past elections.
The trial will feature dozens of witnesses who will explain how North Carolina’s new voting restrictions have severely restricted ballot access for the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including low-wealth voters, those with transportation challenges, and particularly African American voters. In the 2012 election, 900,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during the seven days of early voting eliminated by the North Carolina General Assembly. Seventy percent of those who voted early were African American.
In a packed courtroom in Winston-Salem Monday morning, Judge Thomas Shroeder heard from several eligible African-American voters who cast ballots that were ultimately not counted under North Carolina’s law. Among those disenfranchised voters was Dale Hicks, a 39-year-old African-American Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan and registered to vote in North Carolina while stationed at Camp LeJeune in Onslow County. In 2014, Hicks moved to Raleigh, in Wake County. When he went to vote in that year’s election, he was told he could not vote in Raleigh because he had not updated his voter registration, but because he no longer lived in Onslow County, he could not vote there either. Hicks, who was honorably discharged from the Marines as a sergeant, was disenfranchised. If North Carolina still had same-day registration, he could have re-registered in Raleigh and cast a ballot that counted in the same election. Hicks told the court he was very upset that the state wouldn’t allow his vote to count. “Participation is very important to making our democracy work,” he said.
Sadly, Hicks’ story is not unique. During early voting in 2014, more than 11,000 North Carolinians submitted registration forms that, in earlier elections, would have allowed them to register and cast their ballot in one visit. But under the new voting law, those eligible voters were unable to cast a ballot that counts.
Early voting, same-day registration, and out-of-precinct voting make it easier for voters with financial, time, and transportation restraints to participate in elections. One such voter, Gwendolyn Farrington, an African American mother of three, testified that she was disenfranchised because she cast her ballot at the wrong polling location and was unable to cast an out-of-precinct ballot.
During the 2014 election, Farrington was working 12 hours a day for six days a week on an assembly line that made car parts. Farrington testified that her employer allows “almost zero flexibility” in her work schedule, making it extremely difficult for her to find the time to cast a ballot. In years past, she has voted at the polling location closest to her job because it’s easier for her to access than the one where she is registered, which is about 30 to 45 minutes farther away. On Election Day, she went to her closest polling place after working a 12 hour shift to cast her vote. A poll worker told that even though she was out of precinct, she could cast a provisional ballot that would count. She was wrong. Farrington’s vote was not counted because of the 2013 law.
“I went to a polling site as a registered voter, and I thought that my provisional ballot would be counted,” Farrington told the court. “I’m very upset about [my vote not counting]. I’m a registered voter and other people such as myself have a right to vote like everyone else.”
North Carolina’s trial is expected to last two weeks. Stay tuned to this page for updates.