On October 8, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked same-day voter registration in North Carolina, overturning a recent lower court ruling that allowed it.
By overturning the ruling, the country’s highest court has allowed local election officials in North Carolina to implement and enforce what some have described as “the country’s worst voter suppression law” and “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.” In addition to repealing same-day registration, North Carolina’s law also imposes a strict voter ID requirement and increases maximum campaign contributions – two measures that disproportionately lessen the impact that lower income voters have on elections.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us in her dissent that the North Carolina legislature enacted these measures with an omnibus bill immediately after the Court nullified portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) last June in the case Shelby County v. Holder. Justice Ginsburg notes that these measures “likely would not have survived federal preclearance” formerly mandated by the VRA.
The ruling is a blow to the Department of Justice and advocates of voting rights across the country who have been fighting for fair access to ballots and are actively opposing voter suppression measures passed by state legislatures. As Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a statement after the ruling:
“Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.”
Indeed, as Ari Berman noted the day of the SCOTUS ruling, “Nearly 100,000 voters used same-day registration during the early voting period in 2012, including twice as many blacks as whites.”
Rev. Barber’s words reflected those of Justice Ginsburg – who along with Justice Sonia Sotomayor were the ruling’s only two dissenting voices. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg writes:
“The Court of Appeals determined that at least two of the measures […] risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise the franchise in violation of §2 of the Voting Rights Act. I would not displace that record-based reasoned judgment.”
By allowing North Carolina to eliminate same-day voting registration, the Supreme Court has eliminated what was already a compromise for voting rights advocates. If North Carolina voters were already subject to discriminatory voter ID laws, some argued that at least allowing same-day registration would alleviate some of the negative effects such laws have on voter turnout.
Now, thousands are at risk of losing their ability to cast a ballot in a midterm election featuring a highly-contested U.S. Senate race that could determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.
Who is challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan? None other than Thom Tillis – the current Speaker of the Republican-dominated North Carolina House of Representatives – who oversaw the passage of that very bill described as “the most sweeping anti-voter law in at least decades.”
North Carolina is unfortunately not alone, either. Recent court rulings have also unfortunately upheld suppression measures in Ohio. Another voter ID law in Wisconsin – which some advocates have described as creating “voter chaos” – looked to be upheld by the courts until the Supreme Court issued a one page order vacating a previous appeals court ruling on Thursday.
The growing prevalence of voter suppression laws in our country has troubling ramifications. A recent study by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office found that such laws have a measurable effect on decreasing voter turnout, particularly among blacks and young people. Promoting these discriminatory measures amounts to actively discouraging participation in our democracy.
By doing this, our elected officials are actively making our democracy less inclusive and less representative. It is, in essence, anti-democratic.