RALEIGH — Existing television spots to educate voters about North Carolina’s voting requirements are being canceled. One million informational posters and push cards going to community groups and others are outdated and most likely headed for the trash. Binders carefully created as elections bibles for each of the state’s 2,700 precincts now must undergo a heavy edit.
The reason is last week’s federal appeals court ruling that struck down North Carolina’s voter photo identification mandate, and other voting rules changes approved more than three years ago.
Photo identification was required for the first time in this year’s primaries, but barring a legal delay, it is no longer mandated. Early voting will also be extended to 17 days, up from 10. It also means seven additional days of same-day voter registration during early voting.
The civil rights groups hailed the ruling by the three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that minorities were disproportionately harmed by the restrictive voting ID laws. Nonetheless, it marks yet another election disruption in the presidential battleground state with other big races this fall for governor and U.S. Senate.
Election officials are scrambling to comply with the ruling, in effect returning to the voting rules as they existed before August 2013. Other federal court decisions this year siding against North Carolina had already made it more difficult for voters to navigate the elections process. Some voters told The Associated Press this week the confusion is likely to grow.
“My first election was voting in the primaries. And if I didn’t have other people telling me I wouldn’t have known what to do,” said Stephanie Brown, 23, a Duke University graduate student. “I think everyone should get something in the mail that says where they vote and what they should do beforehand. Because I think a lot of people don’t even know about the voter ID laws.”
Although state leaders vow to appeal the ruling, outside legal experts have said it’s a longshot the decision will be reversed before the November election.
So the State Board of Elections, which had spent about $1 million annually for the past three years to prepare the public for photo ID requirements in 2016, now must make a U-turn.
“Our hope is to ensure that these are being implemented as soon as possible, while understanding that appeals are pending,” said Josh Lawson, the board’s general counsel. “So it’s an interesting spot for our agency to be in.”
A statewide voters’ guide getting mailed to 4.3 million households had contained information on how to vote, including photo ID details. Now that information must be removed and replaced by this Friday, according to Lawson.
Two days of training next week for election officials in all 100 counties also must be retooled. Counties already finalizing plans for 10 days of early voting now must develop plans to cover 17 days. Counties could have to spend more on staffing the extra days and precinct worker training, according to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
Attorney General Roy Cooper is a Democrat who personally opposed the law and whose office won’t defend it any more after the 4th Circuit ruling. He said it’s more important the old voting rules are back in place.
“When you make it easier for people to vote, I hope that that will outweigh the confusion,” Cooper said Tuesday. “The bottom line is that people will have more opportunities to register and vote.”
Cooper this fall is challenging Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the 2013 law and plans to continue the appeal. He blasted Cooper for giving up on the case and said the 4th Circuit’s decision will bring more confusion.
“Why would anyone not want to have a photo ID law when it clearly worked in the primary?” McCrory said.
Already this year, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s congressional boundaries, which had to be redrawn and led to separate primaries in June. Voters in Wake County, which includes Raleigh, still don’t know how local government elections will be carried out following a decision striking down district boundaries.
“This is the most confusing election year that I can remember, just between the courts getting involved so much, to the nature of the race for president,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh.