The state Senate tentatively approved a sweeping elections bill on Wednesday evening that included a strict voter identification requirement and curtailing early voting.
The vote was 32-14 along party lines. Final vote will be taken on Thursday, and then the bill will be sent to the House, where Republican leadership has said it will pass.
Democrats contend the bill is meant to reduce the number of Democrats and minorities who vote. But they managed to soften the blow by convincing Republicans to support an amendment that ensures polls remain open for a specified minimum and consistent number of hours during early voting.
It also allows county elections boards to use private property for polling places if they can’t find a publicly owned facility.
The Senate debate began in the afternoon and, with a few stops and starts, ended several hours later with occasional flashes of anger.
Afterward, about half a dozen protesters staged a sit-in at the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis. General Assembly police led them out of the building one by one in handcuffs, including Rob Stephens with the NAACP.
The House was still in session as the protest took place.