A series of laws went into effect on January 1. These included a set of changes to elections law (see more below in Voting Rights), an increase in registration fees for electric vehicles, regulations governing advertising for substance use disorder treatment, age verification for pornographic websites, and a longer waiting time for teens between getting a learner’s permit and a provisional driver’s license.
On December 19 the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause, and eight black voters filed a suit challenging newly drawn congressional and state legislative maps as racially discriminatory. The lawsuit would not impact districts in the 2024 election, but would potentially force new maps to be drawn for 2026 elections. Republicans in the state legislature responsible for drawing the maps claim that they used partisan data but no racial data in drawing the maps, but advocates say that the maps selectively target Black communities.
On Thursday the Wake County Board of Elections issued a decision in favor of NC Sen. Lisa Grafstein, whose move to her newly redrawn district had been challenged by a Republican opponent. The Board ruled that Grafstein had met the requirement to live in her new district for a year prior to Election Day. While the Board did not address the issue of whether Grafstein is still eligible to serve the remainder of her term in the district she currently serves, Republican leaders of the NCGA have not said they would try to remove her from office.
A series of elections law changes went into effect January 1, though multiple groups are suing to stop them. In addition to a new Election Day deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots and increased leeway for partisan poll observers, the new law requires that same-day voter registrants subsequently receive a mailed notice of their registration, with an undeliverable notice causing the registration to be invalidated. The Democratic National Committee, North Carolina Democratic Party, and Voto Latino are among the plaintiffs challenging the law in multiple suits, with two suits specifically challenging the same-day registration provisions. On December 28 a Federal District Court Judge ordered the parties to these two cases to try to reach a compromise, but on Thursday they submitted a court filing stating that they could not do so.
On Tuesday the State Board of Elections approved a list of 10 counties that will be part of a pilot project to trial a signature-matching test for mail-in ballots. The pilot, which is required by a new law, will use software to test for mismatched signatures on mail-in ballots in Durham, Halifax, Bertie, Wilkes, Montgomery, Rowan, Jones, Pamlico, Henderson, and Cherokee counties. The counties were selected to represent a range of regions, median voting ages, and non-white voting populations.
On December 19 the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted 4-1 to dismiss a complaint seeking to bar Trump from the ballot based on the 14th Amendment. The complaint was filed by Brian Martin, a retired attorney in Stokes County, on the basis of Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021. Republican Speaker of the NC House Tim Moore also told reporters he hoped the NCGA would pass a law prohibiting the Board from disqualifying candidates.
Public education: A look back at the top stories of 2023 and what’s on tap for 2024 – Greg Childress, NC Newsline
The North Carolina Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on February 22 over the Leandro school funding case. Republican leaders in the NCGA are challenging a trial judge’s right to order that the plan be funded. The previous Democratic-majority NC Supreme Court ordered the state to pay for the plan in 2022.
On Tuesday NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby removed Donna Stroud from her position as Chief Judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Stroud will remain a judge on the court, but the Chief Judge position will be taken by Chris Dillon, a judge with six fewer years of experience on the court. Stroud is a Republican like Newby but has previously drawn criticism from fellow Republican judges, including NC Supreme Court Justice Phil Berger, Jr.
On December 20 Governor Cooper announced pardons of four people who served felony convictions and have since gone on to productive careers. Cooper also commuted the sentence of a 35-year-old man who had been in prison since he was convicted of a felony at the age of 16, following the recommendation of North Carolina’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board. Activists participating in a recent monthlong vigil outside the Governor’s mansion had identified over 10,000 people as candidates for clemency, and a wide-ranging coalition has called for a commutation of the sentences of the 136 people on death row.