How Federal Judge Addressed Allegations Of Disenfranchisement In Voting Ruling

Apr 28, 2016

The League of Women Voters, the North Carolina NAACP and others are appealing a federal ruling that upheld North Carolina's 2013 voting overhaul. At the heart of the case is this question: does the law disenfranchise African-Americans? WFAE's Michael Tomsic joined Duncan McFadyen to discuss how the federal judge addressed that question in his ruling this week.

Let's go through some of the claims of disenfranchisement that attorneys presented, starting with out-of-precinct voting.

Right, that's one of the voting options Republican state lawmakers took away. The U.S. Justice Department, the League of Women Voters and others called witnesses who said their vote in the 2014 midterm would've counted if not for that change.

What did the judge say about it?

Federal Judge Thomas Schroeder said the vast majority of voters who testified made no effort whatsoever to determine the location of their assigned precinct. Basically, Schroeder says the problem was more about disinterest rather than disenfranchisement.

The law also eliminated same-day registration. What was the evidence on that?

Same-day registration was disproportionately used by African-Americans. In fact, that's true of all the options lawmakers reduced or eliminated. The judge says so. 

But he describes same-day registration as a failsafe - something extra that the majority of states don't offer. He says getting rid of a failsafe is not the same thing as disenfranchising voters.  

Were there personal examples on that, too?

Credit Denise Cross Photography

Yes, for example Reverend Moses Colbert from Cleveland County. He testified that he registered to vote at the DMV. But when he showed up at the polls, he wasn't on the books. There were lots of examples like this, where an alleged DMV screw-up kept someone from voting.

And what did Judge Schroeder say?

He didn't address Colbert's testimony specifically. But he says DMV problems existed before the election overhaul. And his ruling kept returning to this point: African-Americans fared better on registration and turnout rates in 2014 - after the overhaul took effect.

But the photo ID part of the law was not in effect then. How has that fit into the disenfranchisement arguments?

It's a huge piece of it. The testimony of one of the lead plaintiffs, Rosanell Eaton, was all about the 10 trips it took for her to straighten out issues with her driver's license. 

But Judge Schroeder says, "The voter ID law did not require Ms. Eaton to endure this hassle." Driver's licenses have always had to be renewed. And her old one would've worked just fine for voting purposes.

Is that because of how lawmakers changed the ID requirement last summer?

Exactly. Right before the trial started, lawmakers added acceptable excuses not to have an ID and allowed more room for expired IDs. Judge Schroeder ruled that none of the testimony indicates a person would have difficulty voting under the watered down version of the requirement.

How soon will this case reach an appeals court?

It's unlikely to happen before the June Congressional primary, but it could happen in time for the November general election.