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US Supreme Court Rules NC Can Use Voting Changes This November

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that North Carolina can move forward with voting restrictions this November. The court is effectively nullifying an appeals court ruling last week that said parts of North Carolina's election overhaul would cause African-Americans irreparable harm this November. It's the latest step – but not the last – in lawsuits against the overhaul Republicans passed last year.

How did the U.S. Supreme Court explain its decision?

It didn't. The order provides no legal reasoning – it simply grants a stay against the federal appeals court decision last week. In that decision, the appeals court said North Carolina must still offer same-day registration and count out-of-precinct ballots. The state's lawyers then asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay. 

This same kind of thing played out recently in Ohio, with a similar result – the Supreme Court said the state could move forward with voting restrictions, but didn't say why. Carl Tobias teaches constitutional law at the University of Richmond, and he says this is pretty normal when the court grants a stay.

"In these kinds of situations, which are often styled as emergencies or very urgent, the justices don't have a lot of time to respond and explain what they're doing," Tobias says.

Do we even know how the Supreme Court voted?

We don't. The order doesn't break that down. It just names two justices who publicly dissented.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent, and actually did provide legal reasoning. She points out that North Carolina began pursuing the sweeping election overhaul immediately after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act that had required North Carolina to get federal approval before making voting changes. Ginsburg says she doesn't think North Carolina could've gotten these changes cleared.  

Does she address the earlier appeals' court decision?

She writes about how that appeals court found that eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters, likely in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Ginsburg writes, "I would not displace that record-based reasoned judgment."

Well since the majority of justices didn't give their legal reasoning, what can we piece together about why they ruled the way they did?

We do know what North Carolina's argument was – mainly, that making changes this close to the election would lead to chaos. North Carolina's attorneys also pointed out that parts of the overhaul were in effect for the May primary, which went fine. Basically, they said this is the new normal for local boards of election, and it'd be nuts to retrain them about two weeks before early voting starts. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that this is the same Supreme Court that struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. Ginsberg dissented in that decision, too.

OK, so now that we have the final word on what voting policies North Carolina will use this November, remind us what they are?

Friday is the last day you can register to vote. There will be no same-day registration during early voting this year, so if you haven't registered by the end of the day Friday, you will not be able to vote in November. You can register in person at your local board of election, or you can register by mail as long as it's postmarked Friday or earlier. 

Early voting begins two weeks from today and will last 10 days. (That's down from 17 days in the past few elections.)

If you don't vote until election day, make sure you know what precinct you're supposed to go to. If you vote in the wrong one, your ballot will not be counted.

Also, you still do not need an ID to vote. That's part of the overhaul but doesn't kick in until 2016.

Do we have the final word on whether that change will stand?

No, and to be clear, we don't have a final word on whether any parts of the election overhaul will stand. Everything we've been talking about this morning is just about a preliminary injunction for this November – the U.S. Justice Department and others suing North Carolina wanted to put some changes on hold until a full trial next summer. That is when a judge will rule if any of the changes are unconstitutional.