victory in the Fourth Circuit

Today, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a wide-ranging North Carolina voting law that was passed in 2013 and upheld by a federal district court. The Fourth Circuit found that the legislature enacted these provisions with the intention (and not only the effect) of discriminating against Black voters. The opinion says, “in holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees.”

My colleague Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and I wrote an expert report for this lawsuit, we were both deposed, and I testified in the North Carolina district court last year. We argued that the 2013 law discriminated against young adults. That issue enters the Appeals Court’s decision most explicitly in relation to one provision: “preregistration.” To quote the opinion:

Preregistration permitted 16- and 17-year-olds, when obtaining driver’s licenses or attending mandatory high school registration drives, to identify themselves and indicate their intent to vote. … Although preregistration increased turnout among young adult voters, SL 2013-381 eliminated it. …

The General Assembly’s elimination of preregistration provides yet another troubling mismatch with its proffered justifications. Here, the record makes clear that the General Assembly contrived a problem in order to impose a solution. According to the State, the preregistration system was too confusing for young voters. SL 2013-381 thus sought, in the words of a sponsor of the law, to “offer some clarity and some certainty as to when” a “young person is eligible to vote,” by eliminating preregistration altogether. J.A. 3317.13 But, as the district court itself noted, that explanation does not hold water. The court found that “pre-registration’s removal [] ma[d]e registration more complex” and prone to confusion.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.