by Sue Myrick
On Oct. 8 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld North Carolina’s new elections reform legisla-tion, effectively reversing a ruling in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals blocking the provisions of the Voter Identification and Verification Act (VIVA). The Supreme Court’s ruling, and the success of the law in practice, vindicate the North Carolina General Assembly’s decision to pass VIVA and update the state’s crazy-quilt of election laws.
A look at the timeline of the case will help us see the well-calculated moves by the groups attempting to use the courts to thwart elected representatives of the people.
Aug. 12, 2013: VIVA was signed into law. On the same day the N.C. NAACP filed a complaint challenging the law’s voter ID requirement, elimination of Same-Day Registration (SDR), reduction of early-voting days, prohibition of counting out-of-precinct votes and the expansion of poll observers and ballot challengers. On the same day, the League of Women Voters (LWV) filed a similar complaint.
Sept. 30, 2013: Eric Holder’s Department of Justice filed a complaint challenging changes in early voting, SDR, out-of-precinct voting and voter ID.
December 2013: A magistrate judge con-solidated the three cases for the purposes of scheduling and discovery, and the court allowed other individuals to intervene. The interveners’ complaint included all the previous challenges.
May 19, 2014: Thirteen days after the May 6 primary election, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin many of VIVA’s provisions. The timing is important in that the plaintiffs allowed the state to implement the new law in the May 6 primary.
This may have been a miscalculation on the Left’s part. Perhaps they truly believed that the new election reform provisions would cause real problems at the polls and if so their case would be made. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did the election run smoothly, but also overall turnout increased by 5 percent over the 2010 primary.
Moreover, African-American turnout increased by nearly 30 percent. The plaintiffs’ case relies on the presumption that the new voting law violates Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and discriminates against minority voters. The results of the May primary undercut that claim.
July 7-10: The preliminary injunction hearing took place in Winston-Salem before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder. On Aug. 8, Schroeder in a 125-page ruling denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction.
Aug. 20-21: The N.C. NAACP and the League of Women Voters (respectively) filed their appeals.
Sept. 25: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit listened to one hour each of arguments from the plaintiffs’ and the state’s attorneys. It was in this hearing that doubts were first raised about the fact that the plaintiffs waited nearly two weeks after VIVA’s provisions had been implemented successfully in the 2014 primary to file a preliminary injunction.
Judge Diana Motz, who wrote the dissenting opinion in the Court’s decision, asked the plaintiffs repeatedly why they had not asked for a preliminary injunction before the May election. She never received a straightforward answer.
Oct. 1: The three-judge panel, in a 2-1 decision, issued an opinion that “affirmed in part and reversed in part” the district court’s order. In essence, the order reinstated SDR and out-of-precinct voting.
Oct. 7: The next day the state delivered the Emergency Application for Recall and Stay of Mandate to U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.
On Oct. 8 the Supreme Court returned its 7-2 decision in favor of the state, with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
This long, drawn-out battle was won by the state and people of North Carolina. The implementation of North Carolina’s new election reform law begins to establish order in the state’s election and voting processes. In passing VIVA, the legislature took a first step in attempting to treat all voters fairly and equally when they vote in North Carolina.
July 2015: The entire law will be challenged in a full hearing.
The coming election will be another test for the law. The people of North Carolina should hope that by the time the law comes before judges again that it will be clear that VIVA has indeed modernized the state’s voting laws while protecting the integrity of the ballot box.
—Susan Myrick is the elections policy analyst for the Civitas Institute in Raleigh.