A group of plaintiffs in a voting rights case that rocked North Carolina politics earlier this year filed a further court motion on Saturday to peel back remaining restrictions on early voting times and locations in five counties, a person with knowledge of the move told POLITICO. Filed in the battleground state’s Middle District, the motion seeks to build on wide-reaching victories won by voting rights activists — and cheered by Democrats — earlier this summer when the Fourth Circuit court ruled that the 2013 rules adopted by North Carolina’s Republican-heavy legislature purposely sought to limit the influence of African-American voters there. Story Continued Below
The suit is led by Marc Elias, the Washington attorney who — in addition to working on high-profile voting rights cases across the country — is Hillary Clinton's campaign lawyer. Voting by mail-in ballot has already begun in North Carolina, where Donald Trump narrowly leads Clinton in most polls, but where the Democrat’s campaign sees an opportunity to all-but-eliminate the Republican’s path to 270 electoral votes. Both candidates regularly visit the state, which is a top tier priority for both of them. Allies of Clinton, Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper — each of whom is within striking distance in their respective races in the traditionally Republican state — have already seen the summer’s developments as major steps forward, even before Saturday’s motion. Statewide Democrats expect to rely largely on high turnout from African-Americans in addition to college-educated young white voters in the major cities, and they’ve seen the reintroduction of one-stop early voting — in which voters can register and cast a ballot simultaneously — as a considerable advantage, particularly when it comes to African-American voters in rural areas. In September, Democrats piled lawyers into Raleigh to work on a set of local early voting proposals after North Carolina’s counties were forced to rewrite their plans as a result of the higher court decisions, including one from the Supreme Court.
Now the new effort — filed by six individuals who were plaintiffs in the original NAACP v McCrory case — highlights five counties where they say the new early voting plans still restrict access in ways that disproportionately affect African-American voters.
Four of the five counties in question voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, when he narrowly lost the state to Mitt Romney, and three went to the then-senator when he won the state in 2008.
The plaintiffs are arguing for longer hours on the final day of early voting in Mecklenburg County — the state’s most populous and the home of Charlotte — where they expect to see a high African-American turnout. In Forsyth County, where Winston-Salem is, they argue the plan to cut early voting on Sundays is discriminatory because of that day’s popularity as a voting day among African-Americans there, and they’re seeking more polling sites during the first week of early voting. They seek Sunday voting in New Hanover County as well, and they’re also looking for more sites in Guilford County, the home of Greensboro. Finally, in Nash County, they say African-American voters are forced to travel further during the first week of early voting because there is no polling site in Rocky Mount, a largely African-American city and the biggest in the county.
After going to Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012, North Carolina has shaped up as one of the closest battleground states in 2016, its highly partisan atmosphere roiled largely by the controversies surrounding Gov. Pat McCrory in the voting rights fights and House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that’s driven businesses and sporting events away from the state.
Early ballot requests there so far appear to show Democrats surging ahead, according to an Associated Press analysis.