Included among the little shop of voter suppression horrors North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory wove into the state’s “monster voter suppression law,” HB 589, one trick that attracted less attention than most was the law’s reduction of the state’s Early Voting (EV) period from 17 days down to just 10.
Fortunately for democracy and North Carolina’s voters, in July of this year the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned HB 589, finding that the law unconstitutionally “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” That ruling returned the state’s early voting system to the rules that were in place before HB 589, including a little-noted provision requiring county boards of elections to have at least one EV site open during the first week of the 17-day period.
In a fit of pique, 17 of the state’s 100 Republican-controlled county boards of elections noted that “at least one” can also mean “only one.” And so they devised 2016 EV plans that called for the shuttering of all but one EV site during the first seven days of early voting (or, in giant Mecklenburg County’s case, cut from 22 sites in 2012 to just 4 in 2016).
The poster child for this effort was Guilford County, which cut its Week 1 site numbers from 16 in 2012 to just 1 in 2016 – a whopping 94% cut. The result, which was entirely predictable, is illustrated in the graph above, which is a county-by-county breakdown of the number of ballots cast thus far in the first days of early voting, from October 20th through 24th (expressed as a percentage of the ballots cast during the corresponding period in 2012). Guilford County has earned the dubious distinction of being the state’s most successful voting super-suppressor, posting just 12% of the number of ballots its voters cast during the same interval in 2012.
Also joining this select club of super-suppressors are Alamance (45% of 2012’s ballots cast in 2016), Brunswick (88%), Craven (59%), Gaston (89%), Henderson (84%), Jackson (76%), Johnston (44%), Mecklenburg (89%), Nash (75%), Northampton (66%), Onslow (57%), Polk (121%), Robeson (43%), Rowan (92%), Sampson (59%) and Wayne (70%) counties.
The average turnout across these 17 super-suppressor counties is just 69% of 2012’s performance. Meanwhile, voting action across the state’s 83 other counties averaged 124% of 2012.
The members of North Carolina’s Super Suppressors Club have done what Gov. McCrory, the North Carolina GOP and the General Assembly could not: in effect, they cut the Early Voting period in their counties by a week, by starving their voters. And it’s all perfectly legal (albeit obviously immoral).
Voting rights advocate are taking notice, and beginning to raise hell in the Tar Heel State. Earlier this week Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, wrote Craven County’s Board of Elections director saying, in part:
As you are aware, the only early voting site available during the first seven days of early voting in Craven County is the County Board of Elections [office]….On October 20, 2016, according to the reports we have received, the wait time to vote throughout the day was consistently longer than two hours. Lines extended beyond the buffer zone and, due to the length of the line, at least some voters were subject to unwanted solicitation from two campaigners while they waited. At or around 10:30 a.m., the curbside voting line was over 16-cars long. One curbside voter was unable to sit for extended periods and required assistance to take walking breaks. From 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the line to vote was approximately two hours long. Poll monitors observed more than a dozen voters leave the line and approximately 24 voters arrive at the polling site and leave after seeing the line. We believe that volunteers asked Board staff the cause of the long lines and were told that 90-minute wait times were normal during the early voting period. We strongly disagree.
The excessively long lines prompted one elderly African American voter to arrive at the polls at 7:30 a.m. the next day on October 21. This voter collapsed while standing in line shortly after 8:00 a.m., and was taken to the hospital. She was unable to vote.
We request that the board take action to […] ensure that long lines do not further interfere with the right to vote. Acceptable remedies to eliminate wait times may include reallocating voting booth equipment to address needs (including voting booths, laptops or other equipment) within the existing CBOE voting site, or opening an additional voting site.
Additional demands for corrective action, from concerned attorneys, are going out as this post is being written. You can lend your voice to the rising chorus calling for action, no matter where you live or whether you’re an affected voter. Let them know the whole world is watching. Please email:
North Carolina State Board of Elections director Kim Strach (email@example.com)
Alamance County Board of Elections (ALAMANCE.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brunswick County Board of Elections (BRUNSWICK.email@example.com)
Craven County Board of Elections (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gaston County Board of Elections (email@example.com)
Guilford County Board of Elections (GUILFORD.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Henderson County Board of Elections (HENDERSON.email@example.com)
Jackson County Board of Elections (JACKSON.firstname.lastname@example.org )
Johnston County Board of Elections (JOHNSTON.email@example.com)
Mecklenburg County Board of Elections (MECKLENBURG.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nash County Board of Elections (email@example.com )
Northampton County Board of Elections (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Onslow County Board of Elections (ONSLOW.email@example.com)
Polk County Board of Elections (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Robeson County Board of Elections (ROBESON.email@example.com)
Rowan County Board of Elections (ROWAN.firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sampson County Board of Elections (email@example.com)
Wayne County Board of Elections (WAYNE.firstname.lastname@example.org)