Report: North Carolina voting restrictions have racially-disproportionate outcomes

When the Supreme Court invalidated a key segment of the Voting Rights Act last year, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the protections outlined in the law were outdated, writing that “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

He went on to write that Congress is still within its rights to impose scrutiny on states that it deems likely to pass voting restrictions with discriminatory intent, but it must do so based on current data.

That data isn’t hard to find.

A new report released by Democracy North Carolina earlier this week shows that African Americans and Democrats were far more likely to have their provisional ballots rejected under the state’s new voting restrictions than their white and Republican counterparts.

Prior to 2014, North Carolina allowed for same-day registration during early voting, and allowed voters who showed up to the wrong precinct to cast a partial provisional ballot. In 2010, 21,410 North Carolinians used the same-day registration process during early voting, and 5,700 cast partial provisional ballots after showing up at the wrong precinct. However, those options were taken away during the last election (the Supreme Court refused to put the new laws on hold despite a pending lawsuit), and Democracy North Carolina was able to identify 2,344 out of 9,793 rejected provisional ballots that were cast for those reasons:

Screenshot from the original report.

Screenshot from the original report.

As you can see in the chart, the rejected ballots are not randomly distributed by race or party. 22 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters in 2014 were black, yet they accounted for 38 percent of ballots that were rejected for reasons specific to new voting restrictions passed in the state.

As the report explains, these numbers dramatically understate the effect of new voting restrictions. Voting by provisional ballot is a difficult, time-consuming process, and many voters aren’t even aware that they have the option to do so. When a voter casts a provisional ballot, it is more than safe to say that they aren’t a “civic idiot,” to quote The National Review‘s Daniel Foster; they are willing to navigate numerous obstacles in order to participate in the electoral process. That provisional ballots understate the effects of these restrictions is exacerbated by the fact that fewer provisional ballots were offered in the first place:

Governor Pat McCrory, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, via DonkeyHotey / Flickr

In fact, in over half the state’s counties, 7 or fewer provisionals were cast during early voting. Poll workers knew same-day registration had been repealed, and most people with registration problems simply left. Consequently, the 995 early voters who took the trouble to fill out a provisional ballot is only a fraction of the total number who could have used SDR had it existed in 2014. The same is truefor the 1,349 out-of-precinct voters, because…the number of provisional ballots offered to out-of-precinct voters plummeted in 2014.

In many cases, voters who were turned away due to registration problems thought that they were correctly registered. They filled out the correct forms either at voter registration drives or through the DMV, only to show up at their polling location and find out that they weren’t on the rolls. They weren’t trying to get around voter registration requirements; they did everything right and were still denied their right to vote — often due to what was likely deliberate negligence on the part of North Carolina’s government agencies responsible for processing voter registrations.

Their stories cut against what few arguments were made against Hillary Clinton’s proposed voting rights expansions earlier this month. These voters who are turned away aren’t fraudsters; the person who does all the right things and is persistent enough to cast a provisional ballot after being turned away is the kind of person that conservatives with high standards of democratic citizenship should want to have voting.

In total, the report estimates that in the 2014 election, “the new voting limitations and polling place problems reduced turnout by at least 30,000 voters in the 2014 election.” There is no reason to believe that they prevented a single case of fraud. And the data are clear: The restrictions on provisional voting that North Carolina implemented in 2014 affected black voters more than they affected white voters.

The ACLU and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit against these voting restrictions the day Governor Pat McCrory signed them into law. After a back-and-forth appeals process, a trial is set for next month. The plaintiffs have plenty of evidence to make their case. Like Chief Justice Roberts said, “any racial discrimination in voting is too much.”


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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12 Responses to “Report: North Carolina voting restrictions have racially-disproportionate outcomes”

  1. FLL says:

    Here is the 2015 map of ballot access for the Green Party (link here):

  2. FLL says:

    The data you’ve posted from Democracy North Carolina is very convincing, but I doubt that racist Republican partisans and their allies much care. Racist Republican partisans will ignore all evidence that points to the racist effects of voting restrictions like these. Their knee-jerk reaction will always be that racially discriminatory voting restrictions are not a problem and you should stop complaining about it. Of course, they’re not going to be honest and tell you that their motives are racist, but if they look like racists and walk like racists and quack like racists, then they’re probably racists.

  3. Bill_Perdue says:

    When will the Democrats end their policies that place restrictions on socialist candidates?

  4. Hospity says:

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  5. Houndentenor says:

    Last November I voted with a driver’s license with an address over 300 miles from where I currently live. I had no problem. Oh, did I mention I’m a 50 year old white guy in Texas? Thinks a college age person or ethnic minority person would have been allowed to vote like that. I actually brought proof of my current address with me anticipating a problem. No one asked. I can promise you that not only are these laws intended to make it harder for minorities to vote, they are also being selectively enforced.

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  7. Bcre8ve says:

    I was a NC election judge for early voting, same day registration, and regular voting as well as the “Help Table’ person who did the provisional ballots until recently, and what they have done there is a travesty.

    What we had was widely regarded as a well-run system, with other localities touring our elections on a regular basis as something to be emulated. No more.

    I would also guess those provisional numbers are WAY under what would be considered normal. The number one reason they have moved and do not know where their new precinct is. Oh, and they didn’t send out new cards for the new districts in the last election because they didn’t have enough money – after returning “unneeded” HAVA money to the Feds! Funny how that works. Help tables also are no longer giving out provisionals for “wrong” precincts. No point. Some were even told they no longer were to give out correct precinct info, even though that was the only other thing you do, in that position. (They later “clarified” that was not the case.)

    This is all thanks, in my mind to the usual suspects – True the Vote, the Voter Integrity Project, Art Pope, Project Civitas and the rest of their ilk. I was at a hearing where they had challenged 17,000 “illegal immigrant” voters from some database they claim to have. The BoE quickly whittled that down to 1,700, then 170, and finally, by the hearing, there were just 17 potential “bad” votes. By the end of the hearing they were down to one Belgian-Canadian currently living in FL who had cast one vote – in the GOP primary.

    This didn’t stop the VIP guy from storming out of the hearing, towing the media behind him, railing on about how the BoE condoned illegal voting, blah, blah, blah. And then they won. Everything they ever dreamed of, and more. Thanks to the first GOP controlled legislature in over 160 years.

  8. bpollen says:

    “not actually racially discriminatory but only have racially disproportionate effects.”

    If it has a disproportionate effect, it is in FACT discriminatory. That’s why poll-taxes are not legal. But, in simple fact, ANYTHING that impedes a person’s right to vote is wrong.

  9. rogerclegg says:

    No new legislation is needed. The Supreme Court struck down only one provision in the
    Voting Rights Act — which was indeed unconstitutional — and there are plenty of
    other voting-rights laws available to ensure that the right to vote is not
    violated. What’s more, the bill that has been drafted is bad legislation. For example, it does not protect all races equally from discrimination; it contains much that has nothing to do with the
    Supreme Court’s decision; and it itself violates the Constitution by
    prohibiting practices that are not actually racially discriminatory but only
    have racially disproportionate effects. The bill is also not really bipartisan;
    at Senate hearings last year, it was clear that no Republican would favor it,
    because it is designed to give a partisan advantage to the Left.

  10. Jon Green says:

    Based on the rates at which provisional ballots were rejected, 3/5ths isn’t too far from accurate.

  11. 2karmanot says:

    What??? You mean the 3/5’s solution is off the table?

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