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Federal court overturns NC voting law

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Federal Court overturns NC voting law

Decision invalidates photo ID requirement

With about three months remaining before Election Day, a federal appeals court has overturned North Carolina’s 2013 voting law that, among other things, required residents to show photo identification at the polls. The court agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims that the law discriminated against minorities.

      State Republicans have vowed to appeal the July 29 ruling by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But, for now, the law that had eliminated same-day voter registration, pre-registration and out-of-precinct voting, reduced the early voting period and required a photo ID is invalidated. Its provisions, according to a posting on the North Carolina State Board of Elections website, are “no longer enforceable.”

      The court’s July 29 ruling stated that, “We…take seriously, as the Constitution demands, any infringement on this right [to vote]. We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.” 

      That ruling overturned an April opinion by Judge Thomas Schroeder that upheld the validity of the voting law. The plaintiffs included several churches and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP.

      The State Board of Elections General Counsel, Josh Lawson, told the Sentinel that the state will need to issue “loads of more guidance” to local election boards about how to comply with the new court ruling. That likely means helping re-educate voters on the rules and regulations.

      “The photo ID [provision] has had a long runway of three years to implement,” Lawson added, illustrating the public education challenge now that the provision has been struck down.

      On July 26, the Dare County Board of Elections met to discuss and approve their plan for early voting hours for the fall elections. But, in an email to the Sentinel, Dare Elections Director Michele Barnes said that, in light of the court decision, the board "has not scheduled a meeting pertaining to the change in Early Voting days. We are waiting for more information from the State Board.”

      The Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling triggered widely different reactions in the state.

      Some advocates were quick to praise the decision. In a statement, Common Cause NC President Bob Phillips said, “Today’s decision is a big win for all North Carolina voters and a victory for everyone else who believes in an inclusive democracy.” A statement by Rick Glazer, executive director of the NC Justice Center, asserted that “the court rightfully could not ignore that our state legislature enacted some of the most egregious, far-sweeping restrictions on residents’ voting rights in modern history.”

      Conversely, state Republicans sharply criticized the decision. The North Carolina Republican Party issued a statement saying the state's Democrats "were successful in overruling the will of the people who vastly support North Carolina's protections against voter fraud." And Republican House and Senate leaders Tim Moore and Phil Berger declared that, "We will obviously be appealing this politically motivated decision to the Supreme Court."

      The catalyst for this legal skirmishing in North Carolina was the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act. That was quickly followed by the passage of the voting bill in the Republican-controlled North Carolina State House that, according to League of Women Voters attorney Allison Riggs, “pretty much changed significantly every part of election law” in North Carolina.

      At the Dare County Board of Elections meeting on July 26, the issue of setting early voting hours in the county sparked some debate and disagreement. Members of the Dare League of Women Voters and other activists appealed to the board to expand its early voting hours or at least make scheduling changes to make them more accessible to working people.

      Carmen Odom commented that the upcoming election will be "very important," urging the board to take steps to facilitate maximum voter participation.

      Reporting results from a Dare League of Women Voters online survey, league member Audrey Esposito said the 350 responses indicated that 75% of the respondents would vote early and almost 60% of respondents favored expanding or changing early voting hours. Esposito emphasized that different hours are needed to "accommodate people who are working.”

      Board member Carole Warnecki, participating by speaker phone, noted that Dare County's early voting hours total places it "right in the middle" of the state's 100 counties. She added that she had never received a complaint about the hours available.

      Sandy Semans Ross, representing Democracy North Carolina, commented that voters were probably not aware — as she was not — that the county boards set their own early voting hours. Ultimately, the Dare Board of Elections voted unanimously at that meeting to keep the previously scheduled 204 early voting hours in place for the November election.

      But that was three days before the federal courts spoke. And now the board is waiting for new guidance.


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