One day before North Carolina becomes the first U.S. state to begin early voting for the November 8 presidential election, state officials there have generally ruled in favor of Republican proposals governing the casting of ballots before Election Day.
The North Carolina Board of Elections heard disputes Thursday in 33 of the state’s 100 counties where local boards failed to present unanimous plans, and it ruled that early voting hours would be reduced in 23 counties compared with the amounts of time allowed in the 2008 presidential election. In contrast, early voting hours were increased in 70 counties.
A particularly contentious issue in North Carolina has been whether to allow Sunday voting, which has historically been especially beneficial for African-American voters. Most African-American voters are Democrats, and many of them in North Carolina have participated in traditional mass early voting drives after Sunday church services.
Twenty-one counties allowed Sunday voting four years ago, but it was eliminated Thursday in nine counties and left intact in 12 others.
Ruling on 2013 law
Thursday’s decisions came in response to a ruling issued in July by a federal appeals court that nullified most of North Carolina’s 2013 voting law. The ruling said the law suppressed African-American voter turnout “with almost surgical precision.”
The law, approved by a Republican-majority legislature, established stringent voter identification conditions, reduced early voting hours, and abolished same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and early registration for those under age 18.
The court reinstated a week of early voting the law had eliminated, but it allowed local election officials to determine the number of polling sites and voting hours. This allowed the local boards, all of which have Republican majorities, to reduce voting hours below what they were during the presidential election four years ago.
North Carolina, in the Southeastern U.S., is a battleground state being targeted by the presidential campaigns of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, narrowly won in North Carolina during his second presidential run in 2008.
Clinton on Thursday visited Charlotte, a major commercial hub in the western part of North Carolina. Speaking at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically African-American institution, Clinton decried Republican-led efforts to change North Carolina’s early voting rules, describing them as “underhanded and mean-spirited” and “a blast from the Jim Crow past.”
Clinton said that if elected president, she would reverse “a concerted effort to undermine the right to vote” by working to expand early voting and ensuring all people are automatically registered to vote when they reach 18.
Trump is scheduled to return to North Carolina on Monday, his second visit in less than a week. On Tuesday, Trump appeared at a rally in Greenville, where he vowed to restore jobs in the state.
Clinton in front
The latest polls show Clinton holding a slight 44.3 percent-to- 43.8 percent lead over Trump in North Carolina, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average.
North Carolina is the first of 37 states and the District of Columbia to allow residents to vote by mail-in absentee ballots or at polling sites before Election Day. In the last presidential election in 2008, more than 45 million people, or 35 percent of the electorate, cast ballots before November 8.
Although early voting on the state level does not begin until Friday, absentee ballots have already been cast by some federal employees who are deployed overseas.
Early votes will not be tallied until Election Day.
To determine what the voting requirements are in North Carolina or in any other U.S. state or territory, check here.