RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorneys for North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and other government officials want a judge to reject demands by some voters that early in-person voting be expanded further in five counties after a court ruling recently struck down previous ballot access changes.
Friday’s federal filing by lawyers for McCrory, the state and the State Board of Elections is the latest step in a legal battle over a 2013 law approved by the Republican-led General Assembly that scaled back the early voting period by seven days and required photo identification to vote.
A federal appeals court in July threw out the challenged portions of the law, deciding it was approved with “discriminatory intent” to discourage black voters — overwhelmingly Democrat in North Carolina — from casting ballots. Election officials had to scramble to reschedule early voting so it covered 17 days, not 10.
Local or state election boards approved plans in all 100 counties by last month, with several changes to increase the number of cumulative voting hours, particularly in the first week of early voting.
Some voters who joined the lawsuit filed an emergency motion last weekend demanding a judge order voting times be expanded further in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, New Hanover and Nash counties to comply with the July 29 ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Election board decisions that leave open only one site in a county during the first week or leave out voting on Sundays and the Saturday afternoon before Election Day disproportionately harm black citizens, their lawyers wrote.
In Friday’s response to the motion, the state’s attorneys said the early voting schedules in the five counties — covering Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Wilmington and most of Rocky Mount — complied with the 4th Circuit ruling. They also argue it’s too late to retool voting locations and times because early voting begins Oct. 20 in the presidential battleground state.
The state’s attorneys provided evidence showing there would be 16 percent more cumulative hours of early voting statewide for this fall’s election compared with four years ago. There are also more evening and weekend hours compared with the 2012 presidential election, their response says.
“This undisputed evidence does not show clearly or convincingly any actions or intent by (the state board) or any other entity to avoid compliance with this court’s injunction” blocking the 2013 law, the attorneys wrote to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder. Schroeder was the trial judge who initially upheld the law last April before the appeals court overturned his decision.
Allowing additional early voting changes also would present massive logistical challenges, the lawyers wrote, including training poll workers who have not been hired.
“Further disruption of the election schedule can only cause unwarranted confusion among voters,” they added. There’s no timetable for when Schroeder will rule.
The emergency motion took on added political interest because the voters who sued are represented in part by Marc Elias, who is also general campaign counsel for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, but who is not filing the motion on behalf of the campaign. The state Republican Party has highlighted the Clinton connection.
Other plaintiffs that successfully sued to overturn the law, including the U.S. Department of Justice and state NAACP, have not filed similar emergency requests.