Earlier this month, the Supreme Court decided not to review a lower court ruling striking down significant provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 election reform law, the so-called “voter ID” bill.
That means two things.
First, the lower court ruling will stand – which means the 2013 law is off the books forever. Among other things, that law required voters to show a photo ID before voting, banned same-day registration during the early voting period, and eliminated “provisional” ballots for people who show up at the wrong precinct on Election Day. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision (or non-decision, as it were), voters do not have to show a photo ID at the ballot; voters can register and vote on the same day during the early voting period; and voters can cast provisional ballots on Election Day.
But by not issuing a definitive ruling, the Supreme Court also left the issue open – which means the General Assembly could go back and pass another “election reform” bill in the future, with many of the same provisions. That, in fact, is exactly what many GOP lawmakers say they want to do. (Such a bill would be challenged in court, of course, but a future Supreme Court could reject the challenge.)
But if lawmakers do pass another similar bill – to re-enact the ban on same-day registration, for instance – what would be the actual effect?
If and when the General Assembly does revisit “election reform,” same-day registration (SDR) is one of the provisions most likely to face the ax. Some conservatives have made it a priority to re-enact the SDR ban: they say it opens the door to fraud by allowing people to show up and vote without pre-registering. Supporters of SDR say it’s a safety net for people who have recently moved – people who otherwise might find themselves unable to vote because their voter registration hasn’t been updated to their new address.
And naturally there are also politics involved: both supporters and opponents generally assume that Democrats and left-leaning voters are more likely to use SDR than Republicans and conservatives. (Why do we make this assumption? Voters who use SDR are likely to have recently moved; younger people tend to change their addresses more often than older people; and younger voters tend to be more liberal than older voters. QED, or so we think.)
But what are the facts?
A new study by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has uncovered some surprising details about how same-day registration is actually used in North Carolina.
The most surprising finding: in spite of the common assumption, there is not a partisan difference when it comes to who uses SDR.
The SCSJ study found that 100,258 North Carolinians used SDR for last year’s general election (up about three percent from 2012). Of those, 34,329 were Republicans and 35,528 were Democrats – very little difference at all. In fact, proportionally speaking, Republicans were more likely to take advantage of SDR than Democrats: 1.6 percent of all registered Republicans used SDR in 2016, compared to 1.3 percent of registered Democrats. (That’s because there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in North Carolina.)
The SCSJ study also found (no surprise here) that the American electorate is growing increasingly mobile: 11.2 percent of Americans change their address each year. It takes time to change your voter registration when you move, and no system is ever perfect – so SDR, the authors conclude, is a valuable way to ensure that voters who move aren’t accidentally disenfranchised.
SCSJ legal fellow Jaclyn Maffetore is the lead author of the report. She spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.