The Power of Your Vote: North Carolina’s Rejected Voting Laws

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Sometimes your vote really counts. Yesterday I got to see that in action in my home state of North Carolina. In 2013 our state legislature passed a series of voting reforms. In 2016, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the laws were unconstitutional, citing that they were created with "almost surgical precision to disenfranchise minority voters."

Governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly fought that ruling by appealing to the Supreme Court. Roy Cooper, our Attorney General at the time, refused to take the case on principal. That meant the state had to hire outside counsel.

But last November, North Carolinians voted Roy Cooper into the Governor's mansion. He won by a margin of less than 5,000 votes. Every vote counted. Once the results were finally certified and Cooper sworn in, the state tried to stop challenging 4th Circuit's ruling.

The appellant fighting the case then switched from the governor to only the state's General Assembly. Yesterday morning SCOTUS (North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, 16-833) hammered the last nail in the coffin of North Carolina’s 2013 anti-voter laws  by declining to rule on the 4th Circuit’s ruling that overturned the law.  This is the end of a long legal battle that has drawn national attention from voting right's advocates nationwide, and even the support of our friends at Ben & Jerry's, who personally marched alongside NAACP leadership and even launched a flavor (Empower Mint) and mobile ice cream and engagement truck to support the case.

A statement from Chief Justice John Roberts made it clear that the Supreme Court would not consider the appeal because of a technicality generated from the unorthodox appellant. This is not a ruling on the merits of the case, but because the General Assembly did not have legal standing to appeal without the Governor.

This leaves many other state laws open for debate and is not the great victory for voting rights I have been hoping for.

It is, however, a great victory for any fan of democracy. Anyone who needs a reason to vote in local elections can look to what happened in our governor's race last November. 5,000 voters made that difference. Fewer than the amount of fans at most Phish shows.

The next you think your vote doesn’t matter I encourage you to remember this story. The very narrow victory of Governor Roy Cooper has changed the face of voting rights in North Carolina. This is the power of your vote.