How 2014 Turnout Data May Fit Into NC Voting Lawsuits

Dec 16, 2014

Participation: Total votes from identified demographic. Proportion: Demographic as a percentage of all votes cast. Turnout: Percentage of registered voters who participated from identified demographic .
Credit N.C. Board of Elections

A federal appeals court ruled in October that some North Carolina voting changes would result in irreparable harm to African-Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court overruled, and allowed the changes to be part of this year's elections. Now lawyers involved in the ongoing case have new data to work with – the state Board of Elections released a final breakdown of turnout Tuesday.

The turnout percentage for all North Carolina voters basically held steady compared to the last midterm election. State Board of Elections spokesman Josh Lawson says when you look at race, "We are seeing more and more folks in different demographic groups making their way to the polls."

About 42 percent of African-American voters turned out this year. That's a slight increase – about 2 percent higher – than in 2010.

"We were monitoring this specifically because we want to make sure that voters are adapting well to the new set of laws that are being put in place," Lawson said.

Republican state lawmakers passed sweeping changes a year ago. They cut the early voting period by a week, eliminated same-day registration, and stopped counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

The U.S. Justice Department, the League of Women Voters and others sued, saying the changes are discriminatory because African-Americans disproportionately rely on those kinds of things.

Attorney Allison Riggs represents the League of Women Voters.

"The trajectory over time in North Carolina has been increased participation, not holding steady participation," she says.

"Holding steady" is how Riggs describes the roughly 2 percent increase in African-American turnout. African-Americans had increased their participation rates dramatically over the past few presidential elections, relying heavily on early voting and same-day registration.

"We think the question on turnout is not 2014 compared to 2010, but what would 2014 have been like but for these laws that we're challenging," Riggs says.

She says the turnout data will certainly be part of the arguments in the case, but she emphasizes it's just one piece of the puzzle.

So far, the Supreme Court and lower courts have only weighed in on whether to put the changes on hold as the case plays out. This July, the full trial is scheduled in Winston-Salem. It'll include arguments over photo ID, which North Carolina will start requiring voters to show in 2016.