Despite vigorous opposition from African-American citizens, the Cleveland County Board of Elections voted 2-1 to merge five precincts into two in the city of Shelby (each precinct in North Carolina has one polling place). The two new precincts will be the largest in the county by far, with over 6,600 and 5,700 voters; they eliminate neighborhood polling places in parts of the Shelby that have large African-American populations. The two Republican members on the Cleveland County elections board vigorously denied any racial motive; the chair lambasted the local NAACP president for telling a New York Times reporter that the merger was part of a larger strategy to suppress the voice of black voters.
The NYT reporter used research from Democracy North Carolina about the Shelby controversy and similar cases in the state to describe the fallout of the US Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act a year ago. (Ironically, the court’s “Shelby decision” arose from a town by that name in Alabama.) Before that ruling, an election change in Cleveland County would require a “preclearance” review by the US Justice Department or a federal court to ensure it was not harmful to people of color and other protected voters. Now, the cost of challenging the merger decision falls on the harmed voters and the standard for proving discrimination is tougher.