Early voting schedules for the fall elections remain unresolved in at least one-quarter of North Carolina's counties following a federal court ruling that struck down key portions of the state's 2013 voter identification and ballot access law.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined Republican legislators acted with discriminatory intent toward black voters when they approved several provisions, including one that reduced the number of early voting days from a maximum of 17 days to ten.
Early in-person voting is very popular in North Carolina, used by more than half of the people casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election, when it covered 17 days. Its use could make a crucial difference Nov. 8.
County boards of elections had already approved 10-day plans for early voting sites and hours of operation. They had until late this week to give the State Board of Elections revised plans based on a schedule beginning Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 27.
Local boards in 66 of the state's 100 counties approved their updated plans, according to data provided Friday by the State Board of Elections. Those plans are now essentially finalized.
But 24 counties provided two plans — one approved by a majority on each three-member board and the other backed by a single member. Those counties include several of the state's largest: Mecklenburg, Wake, New Hanover, Pitt and Union. In addition, the Orange County board offered four plans.
Two of the three members on each county board are Republican because Gov. Pat McCrory is a Republican. The other is a Democrat.
The competing plans in each county now go to the State Board of Elections, which makes the final decision. The five-member board could meet in the next two weeks, board attorney Josh Lawson said Friday. Three of the five state board members are Republicans.
County boards had more leeway to adjust plans because the court ruling meant counties were no longer subject to a rule to offer at least the same number of cumulative hours of early voting as they did leading up to the November 2012 election.
Many local boards' meetings this month were packed with community activists after proposals surfaced to reduce the number of early voting sites or decline to offer Sunday voting. Opponents of these proposals argued the plans would run counter to the 4th Circuit's decision backing more voter access.
Early voting historically has been favored by Democratic voters. An email from state Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse that suggested local GOP board members should back plans limiting early voting hours, avoiding Sunday voting and discouraging sites on college campuses. Democracy North Carolina, an election reform group opposed to the 2013 law, has helped organize rallies to promote expanded hours in voting.
Elections boards in six counties have only offered a majority plan or a minority plan. Three other counties either had not yet met by Friday afternoon or never formally voted on a plan, according to the state board.
McCrory and other state officials said there's no evidence the 2013 law discriminated against minority voters. They have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to restore the 10-day early voting schedule this fall while they appeal the 4th Circuit decision. Actions on 17-day plans would be moot should the high court grant the request. Early voting covered 10 days during the 2014 elections.