Federal lawsuits against North Carolina claim that recent changes to the state’s election laws will “suppress” minority votes. For example, in N.C. State Conf. of NAACP v. McCrory, plaintiffs assert that the new laws “impose a disproportionate burden on the ability of African Americans to vote” and will “raise costs for voters and deter participation.” They highlight testimony by a former director of the State Board of Elections who asserted that the laws will “ultimately reduc[e] turnout in comparison to comparable elections.”
Turnout data for the 2014 election, posted Dec. 10 on the state’s Board of Elections website, tell a different story. Black turnout and registration for the November 2014 election increased by every relevant measure compared with November 2010, the last non-presidential general election.
Last July, North Carolina adopted electoral reforms that eliminated same-day registration, reduced the number of days of early voting to 10 from 17, and required ballots to be cast in a voter’s home precinct. It also instituted a voter-ID requirement that will take full effect in 2016.
Two sets of plaintiffs, led by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, sued in federal court on Aug. 12, 2013. They were followed a few weeks later by the Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that the state’s new laws would restrict “access and ease of voter participation” and “would shrink, rather than expand, access to the franchise.”
All three suits alleged that the reforms will inflict “burdens” on North Carolina voters–and in particular, on minority voters. These allegations were backed by reams of expert reports submitted by social scientists predicting that these burdens would depress voter registration and turnout.
One expert in the Justice Department lawsuit claimed that more than 200,000 black voters, along with 700,000 white voters, would be “burdened” in an off-year election. Another expert concluded that particular provisions “will lower turnout overall” and “will have a disparate impact on African-American voters.”
Those predictions were not borne out. The 2014 elections were the first test of the impact of North Carolina’s new laws, including a “soft rollout” of its voter-ID requirement–under which poll workers asked voters if they had ID and if not, to acknowledge the new requirement in writing. Board of Elections data showed that the percentage of age-eligible, non-Hispanic black residents who turned out to vote in North Carolina rose to 41.1% in November 2014 from 38.5% in November 2010.