RALEIGH, N.C. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled Wednesday that two provisions of North Carolina’s election-law overhaul in 2013 cannot be enforced for 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 Republicans gained control of both General Assembly chambers and the governor’s office.
The ruling came days after the court held oral arguments on 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’s overhaul.
Schroeder ruled that the challengers failed to make the case that voters would suffer “irreparable damages” if elections were held under the 2013 rules.
But the appellate judges disagreed with Schroeder on the provisions targeting same-day registration and the ability of voters to cast provisional ballots outside their precincts.
The ruling was quickly praised by 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 American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project.
Allison Riggs, a staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, 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 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 during which people can vote early, prohibit people from casting ballots out of their assigned precincts and drop a popular preregistration program for teenagers.
Republican leaders who shepherded the changes through the General Assembly to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory said they are trying to ward off the potential for voter fraud, although few cases have been brought forward.
The provision of the election-law overhaul that requires voters to present photo identification at the polls does not take 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, which is set for July 15.