This week, Gov. Pat McCrory asked the United States Supreme Court to reinstate North Carolina’s election laws for the upcoming election. To those who might question our decision to appeal, here’s why.
While critics claim a stay will produce confusion for North Carolina elections, they ignore the successful rollout of these reforms beginning in the 2014 midterm elections. The early voting schedule has been in place since 2014, increasing minority participation. Similarly, voter ID had a successful roll out during the 2016 primaries. Without a stay, this hard work will be tossed aside and our State Board of Elections and counties must plan and educate voters about a new system with little time to spare.
This appeal is about more than administrative hassle and confusion. Governor McCrory stands behind the right of North Carolinians to establish, and when they deem necessary, to reform the rules that govern our system of fair elections. The Fourth Circuit decision uniquely and unfairly strips this right from North Carolina.
For instance, while North Carolina now cannot require a basic photo ID to vote, South Carolina is allowed to keep its nearly identical photo ID rule. In Texas, voting rights advocates and state elections officials have agreed to adopt an ID standard that mirrors North Carolina’s requirement, including the free voter identification cards and voter education effort that our state implemented.
It is also confounding that just eight years ago, the Supreme Court ruled states may require a photo ID for voting, and over 30 other states have similar voter ID laws, including deeply Democratic states like Rhode Island, because they recognize these requirements help prevent fraud and restore confidence in election systems. If the governor did not appeal this decision, we would be the only state unable to implement a voter ID program enacted by its legislature.
Despite having a far more generous early voting program than many neighboring states, North Carolina election officials are now being forced to completely revamp an early voting and registration system less than three months before the November general election. This is an unreasonable administrative burden and will produce voter confusion.
Under the current system, North Carolina already provides almost exactly the same number of early voting hours as it did during the 2010 and 2012 elections, but now those hours are set so working people can take advantage of this opportunity. In fact, in 2014, minority participation increased compared to the old system used in the 2010 midterm elections. If states such as New York can have no early voting, North Carolina should be able to redistribute its generous early voting hours in a way that benefits working families.
Finally, North Carolina cannot allow the Fourth Circuit’s characterizations of our state to go unchallenged. Prior to the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder found our laws to be constitutional. He considered a 25,000-page record, heard countless hours of testimony, and made meticulous findings of fact in a 485-page opinion. Part of his findings included the fact that legislators were not acting with discriminatory intent and that the state’s election reforms had no discriminatory effect on minority participation. In fact, participation increased. The Court of Appeals appears to have ignored these critical facts in its opinion.
North Carolina is committed to fair and free elections. As anyone who has turned on a television within the last month knows, we are a competitive battleground for every sort of political race. Our citizens deserve to be able to manage our election system and implement sensible reforms. The governor is asking the Supreme Court to preserve that ability.
Bob Stephens is general counsel to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.