A couple days after calling North Carolina’s voter purge process “insane” and “like something that was put together in 1901,” US District Judge Loretta Biggs on Friday ruled that county officials must restore the voter registrations of thousands of people.
The decision comes after the NAACP took North Carolina county officials to court, arguing the registration purges had targeted minority voters.
The voter purge process was shockingly simple: Any voter can challenge another county resident’s registration, which then leads to a formal hearing in which the challenger presents evidence that the registration is invalid. If local officials conclude there’s enough for probable cause, a challenged voter can be called to a hearing. But if challenged voters don’t turn up, they’re automatically stripped from the rolls. Obviously, this can have a disproportionate impact on poor, minority voters who just don’t have the time or the means to get to a hearing.
Through this process, North Carolina counties have removed nearly 7,000 people from the county voter rolls, out of the state’s 6.8 million registered voters. The state chapter of the NAACP contends that this disproportionately affected black voters. And almost all of the challenges came from one county, Cumberland.
It’s unclear exactly how many of these voters will now be able to cast a ballot on Election Day.
North Carolina has been plagued by other problems since early voting began, including long lines at polling places. Although studies show that rules and laws that limit access to voting (such as voter ID and cuts on early voting) have small to zero effect on voter turnout, civil rights advocates worry that these kinds of hurdles will disproportionately impact minority voters who tend to, due to socioeconomic disparities, have a tougher time getting to the ballot. And that could tilt the election against Democrats, who rely more on minority votes to win.
Recent polls show North Carolina’s presidential, gubernatorial, and US Senate races are all very close, with candidates one or two points apart. So even a small effect may help decide these crucial elections.