Craig Thomas of Granville County, North Carolina, registered to vote before he deployed to Afghanistan with the US Army. After serving abroad for eighteen months, he went to vote early in the state’s primary on April 30. He returned from Afghanistan to the same house, in the same precinct, but was told at the polls that there was “no record of registration” for him.
In the past, Thomas could’ve re-registered during the early voting period and cast a regular ballot under the state’s same-day registration system. But same-day registration was one of the key electoral reforms eliminated by the North Carolina legislature last year when it passed the nation’s most onerous package of voting restrictions. In 2014, Thomas had to cast a provisional ballot, which was not counted. After fighting abroad, he was disenfranchised at home.
Thomas was one of 454 North Carolina voters who would have had their ballots counted in 2012 but did not have them counted in the 2014 primary because of North Carolina’s elimination of same-day registration and prohibition on counting a provisional ballot cast in the wrong precinct, according to a new review by Democracy NC. (North Carolina also cut early voting by a week and mandated a strict voter ID law for 2016, among other things.)
From the report:
Voters denied a chance to have their voices heard include a veteran returning from Afghanistan whose registration was incorrectly terminated while he was away; a first-time voter who registered at the DMV, but that registration didn’t reach the local board of elections; a precinct judge assigned to a precinct other than her own who couldn’t leave to vote in her home precinct; a disabled senior who was driven to a friend’s polling place on Election Day; a nurse who temporarily registered her car in a nearby county while working at its hospital for nine months; a college student who registered during a voter drive but her application was not recorded; and a new couple in town who mailed in their registration but it did not reach the county board of elections before the registration deadline.
These new restrictions disproportionately impacted black and Democratic voters. “While Black voters make up 22% of all registered voters, they were 39% of those who lost their votes because of the two rule changes,” according to Democracy NC. “Democrats are 42% of the state’s registered voters, but 57% of those disenfranchised by the new rules.”
The problems in the primary are a disturbing preview of what’s to come. “These 454 voters are obviously just the tip of the iceberg of the thousands who faced the same problems when they went to vote in the primary and who simply left the polling place without taking the time to fill out the paperwork and file a provisional ballot,” Democracy NC notes.
Voter turnout will be much higher in the general election than in the primary, so many more voters will be burdened by the new rules. North Carolina has one of the closest Senate races in the country between Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis, which could very well decide control of the Senate.
Last month, US District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder declined to grant a preliminary injunction against the state’s new voting restrictions because he said that the plaintiffs “have not demonstrated they are likely to suffer irreparable harm.”
Craig Thomas and the hundreds of voters whose ballots were not counted would likely disagree with Schroeder’s definition of irreparable harm.
An expedited appeal to block the new restrictions before the midterms will be heard by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Charlotte on September 25.