U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder said last week that he will take time to consider the arguments offered about changes to the states voter laws that N.C. lawmakers approved last year. An array of groups have challenged the changes, saying they erect voting obstacles for minorities, the elderly and young people, and are discriminatory. They want the changes suspended until the case goes to trial next year.
The judge should suspend implementation of these new laws. They are ill-advised and unnecessary. Some have already caused confusion and wasted taxpayer dollars.
We noted that last week that lawmakers decision to end preregistration of teens to vote was nonsensical. It caused so much confusion about when 17 year olds who would turn 18 could register that state elections supervisor Kim Strach decreed the state will begin offering voter registration services to all 17-year-olds regardless of when they turned 18.
Suspension of the voting changes would reinstate teen preregistration, as well as same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct provisional voting, and early voting over 17 days as opposed to the 10 days set in the 2013 law. County boards of election also would still be allowed to keep polls open an extra hour. It would also forestall the preparations elections officials are making for the implementation of a state-approved voter ID. That law doesnt go into effect until 2016, but poll workers are already asking about IDs which has confused some voters.
Lawyers defending the legislatures voting changes contended during the four-day hearings that suspending the changes were unnecessary since the May primary results showed they have not affected African American turnout. They cited an uptick in black voter turnout from the 2010 primary of about 44,500.
The nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina said that jump was hardly uniform statewide. Their county-by-county analysis is illuminating. It showed that though more African Americans voted in the midterm primary, black voter turnout decreased in 8 of the 15 counties where blacks comprise over 39 percent of registered voters. In fact, black turnout as a percent of registered voters who cast ballots declined in 32 of the 100 N.C. counties.
The analysis also showed that two-thirds (66 percent) of the increased number of votes cast by black voters statewide came from just seven counties counties where there were either controversial or heated races on the ballot or where more early voting opportunities were offered. In Mecklenburg, for instance, the hotly contested 12th Congressional District seat that Mel Watt held helped draw 8,282 more black votes (the largest black voter increase in the state) than were cast in 2010. Additionally, Mecklenburg had only one early voting site in 2010 but 13 this year.
Courts have overturned such laws in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arkansas. North Carolinas should be upended too. In the meantime, the judge should block them until the courts resolve the matter next summer.
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