RALEIGH, N.C. - A group of North Carolina voters that wants to expand early in-person voting in the presidential battleground state lost its case before a federal appeals court Wednesday, while voters in Georgia and Virginia still held out hope of extending their registration deadlines.
A three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion focused on five North Carolina counties that include cities such as Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. A trial court judge refused the same request last week.
The voters’ lawyers argued the counties weren’t complying with the 4th Circuit’s ruling in July striking down portions of a 2013 law that reduced the early-voting period by seven days. The period now covers 17 days, beginning Thursday. The voters, however, said county or state election officials should have allowed additional early voting on Sunday, during the first seven days of the period, or on the Saturday afternoon before Election Day.
Lawyers for the state and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory told the courts that county and state election boards abided by the ruling, which reverted ballot-access laws to where they were before the 2013 law approved by Republican legislators. They also wrote this week that making 11th-hour changes would create more voting confusion and administrative burdens on election officials.
The court clerk, on behalf of the three judges who struck down the 2013 law, filed a three-sentence order denying the voters’ request. It wasn’t immediately clear if the voters would seek relief at the U.S. Supreme Court. The panel ruled in July that Republicans had approved the 2013 law with “discriminatory intent” against black voters, who disproportionately support Democrats.
A state judge already extended a voter-registration deadline until Wednesday in the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew. But that deadline only applies to people who wish to mail an absentee ballot or want to vote on Election Day.
People can still register to vote and cast their ballots if they visit an early-voting center anywhere in the state, but residents pushed out of their homes by Matthew’s record floods may find any of the voting options challenging.
There are 6.8 million registered voters in North Carolina. Early in-person voting is very popular, representing 56 percent of the ballots cast in the 2012 presidential election.
In addition to the presidential race this year, North Carolina has races for governor, U.S. Senate, Congress and several statewide elected positions.
Joining the motion for additional early voting was Marc Elias, the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The campaign isn’t a party in the case, but Republicans have pointed out the connection.
In Georgia, U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. said at a hearing Wednesday that he would rule later in the day on a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to give six additional days for registration in six coastal Georgia counties that Gov. Nathan Deal ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Matthew.
The ACLU filed suit on behalf of two Georgia teens who had not yet registered and the state NAACP, which planned registration drives during the final week to sign up new voters for the Nov. 8 elections. The suit argued the Oct. 6 mandatory evacuation order closed local elections offices and effectively prevented residents of coastal counties with large African-American populations from joining the voter rolls during the busy final days.
In Virginia, a civil rights group asked a court Tuesday to extend the registration deadline by at least three days after technical problems with the state’s online system prevented some residents from registering to vote.
Local news organizations report that the lawsuit was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of Kathy and Michael Kern, a Charlottesville couple who failed to register by Monday’s deadline after the website crashed.
State elections commissioner Edgardo Cortes says the deadline is specified in state code, which provides no option for an extension.