2014-03-08 / Editorial

Despite the talk, early voting hours get trimmed

RALEIGH

Last week, Gov. Pat McCrory told a national cable news audience, “In fact, (North Carolina’s voter ID law) does not shorten the hours for early voting.”

In fact, in at least 32 counties, it very well may.

Not long after McCrory made those remarks, the State Board of Elections granted exceptions allowed under the Voter ID law to shorten early voting hours in 32 counties.

During his 2012 run for governor, McCrory championed a requirement that voters present a photo ID at the polls.

He signed into law more expansive legislation that includes measures to cut down on the number of early voting days, limit provisional voting, eliminate straight-party ticket voting, prohibit poll hour extensions on Election Day, loosen disclosure requirements for campaign ads, and rewrite rules of absentee balloting.

Regarding early voting, the law includes language that local election boards keep the total number of hours the same even as the number of days were reduced.

It was that language that McCrory referred to during his interview on CNN.

Getting less attention was a provision that allowed local election boards, with the unanimous agreement (meaning the one Democrat on local boards would have to agree with the two Republicans), to seek a waiver of the requirement from the State Board of Elections.

The issue is not a minor one.

It is a critical aspect of the lawsuits challenging the new law.

The groups that have sued the state argue that restricting early voting, because minority voters utilize it in disproportionate numbers to their population, discriminates against those voters.

But McCrory likely believed what he said.

He pushed for a simple voter ID bill, not the omnibus elections law bill that legislators ultimately approved. He has never been a legislator.

He is not a lawyer. And governors, for better or worse, do not always understand the intricacies of every bill that they sign into law. (Some legislators, by the way, do not even read the bills that they vote to pass into law.)

None of that changes the fact that the exceptions provide another example of the Voter ID bill being sold as something that it is not.

It will make voting more difficult.

When you cut down the early voting hours in a place like Sampson County from 141 hours to 96 hours, that is what happens.

That some Democrats have signed off on the changes — even as legislators in their party condemned the changes — may reflect the budget difficulties faced in some counties once lawmakers decided to compress the days in which early voting is allowed.

Meanwhile, you don’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that the decision to cut early voting hours increases the likelihood that a federal judge will issue an injunction stopping the law from taking effect until the lawsuits are settled.

With a trial date expected in 2015, an injunction makes sense.

After all, we are only talking about a fundamental right upon which all others hinge.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina government and politics for the Capitol Press Association.

Return to top