News: Quick Takes

4th Circuit ruling may cut back early voting options

Cash-strapped counties may choose to cut back number of sites, eliminate Sunday hours, SBOE attorney says

The decision on Friday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down North Carolina’s 2013 election law reforms could result in fewer early voting sites. And those sites could be open for fewer hours.

“There’s no longer an hours-matching requirement,” said Josh Lawson, legal counsel for the State Board of Elections, referring to the provision in the 2013 election reform law that required local elections boards to have early voting sites open at least as many hours over the 10-day early voting period as they’d been during the 17-day period that was in effect before 2013.

Some smaller counties had a single early voting site, typically at the county board of elections. Lawson said some counties satisfied the 2013 law by increasing the hours that their only early voting sites were open. But that wasn’t the trend, he said.

“Many counties had more sites open in an effort to meet that hour-matching requirement,” Lawson said.

Friday’s ruling puts the 17-day early voting period back in place.

Lawson said that county election boards now will have to submit new early voting plans. And the various boards would have to keep their local funding resources in mind while they’re working out their plans, he said.

Rather than opening several early-voting sites, counties could satisfy the 4th Circuit’s decision by “just [having] their county elections site for all 17 days,” Lawson said. “The cost would be minimal.”

Each county’s three-member board has a 2-1 Republican majority. Those boards that arrive at a plan that get unanimous support can implement them without the approval of the State Board of Elections, Lawson said. Those that cannot would have to submit them to the state board for approval.

Lawson added that county boards can provide early voting on Sundays, but they are not required by law to do so.