By Anne Blythe, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
RALEIGH, N.C. _ The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that two provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 election law overhaul cannot be enforced during the November election.
The three-judge panel’s ruling reinstates same-day registration and restores out-of-precinct provisional voting.
The judges did not reinstate the seven days of early voting that were eliminated by the law adopted last year when the Republicans gained control of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office.
The ruling came days after the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments on the pros and cons of an emergency appeal filed in late August by the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, registered Democrats in North Carolina and others.
The hearing was in Charlotte nearly a month after U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder rejected a similar request from the organizations and Democrats challenging the election law overhaul.
Schroeder ruled the challengers had failed to make the case that voters would suffer “irreparable damages” if elections were held under the 2013 rules.
But the appeals court judges disagreed with Schroeder on the two provisions targeting same-day registration and the ability of voters to cast provisional ballots outside their precincts.
The ruling brought quick praise from voting rights advocates and challengers of the overhaul bill.
“The court’s order safeguards the vote for tens of thousands of North Carolinians. It means they will continue to be able to use same-day registration, just as they have during the last three federal elections,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Southern Coalition for Social Justice staff attorney Allison Riggs added: “This is a victory for voters in the state of North Carolina. The court has rebuked attempts to undermine voter participation.”
The challengers of the 2013 election law overhaul contend that the changes discriminate against African-Americans, Latinos and voters younger than 25.
They asked the court to block provisions that end same-day registration, curb the number of days on which people can vote early, prohibit people from casting ballots out of their assigned precincts and end a popular teen preregistration program.
Republican leaders who shepherded the changes through the General Assembly to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory argue that they are trying to ward off the potential for voter fraud, though few cases have been brought forward.
The provision of the 2013 election law overhaul that requires voters to present a photo ID at the polls does not go into effect until 2016, when presidential races will be on the ballot.
North Carolina voters go to the polls Nov. 4 to decide a U.S. Senate race of national interest _ the contest between Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat from Greensboro, and Republican challenger, Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House speaker from Mecklenburg County. Libertarian Sean Haugh also is seeking the seat.
There also are statewide races that have the potential to shift the political balance in the North Carolina Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals.
The lawsuit challenging the new election law is not scheduled to be heard in full until a federal court trial set for July 15.
Photo: hjl via Flickr