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The Daily Tar Heel

Year in review: NC voting rights reach federal courts

A North Carolina voting law and the state's voting districts for the General Assembly were contested by federal courts over claims of racial discrimination this election year.

North Carolina’s controversial voter ID law, instituted in 2013, provided regulations on voting and registration procedures. The law was upheld by a federal judge in April. 

The law included a provision to require photo ID at the polls as well as changes to early voting schedules, pre-registration, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

The photo ID requirement was in place during the March and June primary elections. 

In July, a federal appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling the voter ID law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. The court said the law was implemented with “racially discriminatory intent.” 

The appeals court ruled the law’s photo ID provision was too restrictive to some while not restrictive enough to truly prevent voter fraud. 

In mid-August, Gov. Pat McCrory issued an emergency request to the U.S. Supreme Court to allow a stay on three provisions of the voter ID law, including the photo ID requirement, until after the general election. The court denied McCrory's request for a stay later in August. 

Earlier in the month, a three-judge federal panel struck down North Carolina’s 2011 state House and Senate redistricting map, citing “racial gerrymanders,” and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

“We agree that these unconstitutional, challenged districts have already caused Plaintiffs substantial stigmatic and representational injuries, and that Plaintiffs are entitled to vote under constitutional districting plans as soon as possible,” the judges' decision said. 

But, given the time needed for the creation of a new map, the judges said the existing districts would stand for the November election — “despite their unconstitutionality.” 

Following the Nov. 8 election, Gov. Pat McCrory filed protests contesting the legitimacy of ballots in more than 50 counties. The State Board of Elections dismissed McCrory's protests later in the month. 

At the end of November, a federal court ruled North Carolina must redraw the 28 unconstitutional districts and hold a special election in 2017 for the state General Assembly. The court order gave lawmakers a Mar. 15 deadline to redraw the districts. 

The required special election could remove from office members of the General Assembly who were elected on Nov. 8, and the decision has been criticized for shortening the constitutionally-specified two-year terms. 

“While special elections have costs, those costs pale in comparison to the injury caused by allowing citizens to continue to be represented by legislators elected pursuant to a racial gerrymander,” the court order said at the time. 


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