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Decided: October 1, 2014

The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction on House Bill 589’s (“H.B. 589”) elimination of same-day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots, and remanded with instructions to the district court to enter a preliminary injunction. However, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellant’s request for a preliminary injunction regarding other provisions of H.B. 589.

The Supreme Court lifted certain Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) restrictions on June 25, 2013, that had previously prevented jurisdictions from passing laws that denied minorities equal access to voting. The next day, North Carolina started pursuing broad voting reform by introducing House Bill 589 which—among other effects—imposed rigorous voter identification requirements; cut a week off of early voting; prohibited local election boards from keeping the polls open on the final Saturday afternoon before elections; eliminated same-day voter registration; and barred votes cast in the wrong precinct from being counted at all. Appellants, and the U.S. Government, sued North Carolina in response, alleging that H.B. 589 violates the Equal Protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the VRA. Appellants requested that the district court grant a preliminary injunction to prevent H.B. 589 from taking effect, but the district court refused. Appellants then timely filed an appeal.

The Fourth Circuit stated that Appellants failed to establish at least one of the elements necessary to win a preliminary injunction with respect to the following provisions of H.B. 589: (i) the reduction of early-voting days; (ii) the expansion of allowable voter challengers; (iii) the elimination of the discretion of county boards of elections to keep the polls open an additional hour on Election Day in “Extraordinary circumstances”; (iv) the elimination of pre-registration of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds who will not be eighteen-years-old by the next general election; and (v) the soft roll-out of voter identification requirements that will go into effect in 2016. Thus, the Fourth Circuit declined Appellants’ request for a preliminary injunction as to those provisions of H.B 589. However, the Fourth Circuit also stated that it was not suggesting that Appellants could not prove and eventually succeed on their challenges to all of these H.B. 589 provision at trial. The Fourth Circuit did grant Appellants’ request for a preliminary injunction with respect to the H.B. 589 provision affecting same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting because Appellants demonstrated through substantial evidence that they were likely to succeed on their Section 2 claims under the VRA; that Appellants’ were likely to suffer irreparable harm because minority voters in North Carolina would be disproportionately, and adversely, affected with no redress; that the balance of hardships showed that old systems could be resurrected to counteract the little time that North Carolina would have to implement the relief granted by the Fourth Circuit; and that the injunction was in the public interest because it stripped away the ability of qualified voters to participate in elections.

Full Opinion

Alysja S. Garansi