Changes target voting options preferred by African-American voters
RALEIGH, N.C. – With the passage of SB 325, the North Carolina General Assembly has approved changes to the state’s early voting procedures whose limitations would likely disproportionately affect African American voters and put greater strain on election resources in rural communities. The bill mandates that early voting periods end on the Friday before an election, eliminating early voting opportunities on the Saturday before an election — a day on which hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have cast their ballots in previous elections. It also requires voting sites in a county to have uniform hours — so all sites must be open if any are open, regardless of the frequency of their use.
“We all know — and the legislature knows — that African-American voters make use of the last Saturday of early voting more than other groups,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “We’ve endured this outrageous song and dance before. Efforts to dilute or undermine the voting strength of African Americans are illegal and undemocratic. We strongly urge Gov. Cooper to veto this bill.”
In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 103,513 voters — almost 1 in 10 early voters (9.41%) — cast their ballots on the last Saturday of early voting. In 2016, African American voters, who made up 20.6% of voters in the 2016 general election, accounted for 28.9% of voters on the last Saturday or early voting.
Another provision in the bill requires that any time one early voting site in a county is open, all other early voting sites in that county must also be open. This rigid rule is blind to the facts on the ground and is likely to create a strain on election officials. Its application can make it prohibitively expensive for officials to offer weekend early voting access and to open an adequate number of early voting sites in a county.
Local election boards use varied hours to maximize resources and open voting sites in areas and at times that make sense for their communities. In the 2018 primary, 46 counties offered varied times at satellite sites during early voting in response to demand. In 2014, the most recent midterm election, 55 counties took advantage of the flexibility provided by the current statute.
“Local election boards and advocates working with their local boards often know best how to make sure their community members have opportunities to vote. For rural counties in particular, mandating the expensive task of running every county site throughout early voting will lead to fewer early voting locations,” said Riggs. “Despite the efforts to muddy the water with specious claims about the need for uniformity, it’s clear that this bill achieves one thing and one thing only: making it harder to for North Carolinians to vote. Gov. Cooper should demand that voting remains easily accessible for all voters and veto this bill.”
To read the bill language, click here.