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of the Voting Rights Act last year, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the protections outlined in the law were outdated, writing that “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to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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