RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina attorneys wasted no time pleading to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to allow the state to carry out two key voting changes for the fall election.
The lawyers representing the state and Gov. Pat McCrory asked the Court to block Wednesday's split decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said the state could not implement the changes.
The majority on a 4th Circuit panel ruled Wednesday that a state law eliminating same-day registration during the in-person early voting period and counting votes cast outside of a voter's assigned precinct on Election Day should be set aside while litigation continues. Other changes to the law passed last year were upheld.
By the same 2-1 decision earlier Thursday, the three-judge circuit panel rejected the request from state lawyers to delay implementing its ruling. The two-sentence order prompted the state to file its emergency application for relief with the Supreme Court.
The majority on the 4th Circuit panel agreed with plaintiffs — the state NAACP and League of Women Voters among them — that argued eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting would disenfranchise minority voters and should be halted for now. Three lawsuits challenging these and other election laws are scheduled for a trial next summer.
Chief Justice John Roberts asked plaintiffs to file their response by late Sunday afternoon. Both sides in the case, in legal briefs filed Thursday across two courts, warned of confusion if the opposing viewpoint were to prevail.
Same-day registration during early voting and counting out-of-precinct ballots had been in place for several years before the 2013 law approved by the GOP-led General Assembly and signed by McCrory, also a Republican. They weren't permitted during this May's primary.
If the 4th Circuit's decision is delayed, "harmful confusion certainly will result in voters being unable to cast a ballot that will count," said in a brief signed by attorneys Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Dale Ho with the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. Keeping the panel's ruling in place, they write, will simply allow for more people the option to register to vote and have their ballots count Nov. 4.
Thomas Farr, one of the state's attorneys, however, wrote the circuit's decision would result in "massive and unprecedented last-minute change" in election practices even as May primary turnout for all voters and minority voters increased. Same-day registration would have to be performed manually statewide and out-of-precincts ballot separated by hand and recounted, the state's emergency application read.
The 4th Circuit ruled other election law changes provisions could continue, including the reduction of early voting to 10 days and preliminary activities at the polls to prepare voters for a photo identification requirement in 2016.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision earlier this week, stayed a U.S. District Court ruling in Ohio that would have halted enforcement of new laws in that state that trimmed the early-voting period and eliminated the one week of same-day registration allowed during that period.