Newspaper article International New York Times

Judge Upholds Changes to North Carolina Voting Regulations

Newspaper article International New York Times

Judge Upholds Changes to North Carolina Voting Regulations

Article excerpt

The state demonstrated a legitimate interest in requiring voters to provide certain credentials before casting their ballots, he ruled.

A federal judge has upheld sweeping Republican-backed changes to election rules, including a voter identification provision, that civil rights groups say unfairly targeted African-Americans and other minorities.

The ruling, issued on Monday, could have serious political repercussions in a state that is closely contested in presidential elections. The opinion, by Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, upheld the repeal of a provision that allowed people to register and vote on the same day. It also upheld a seven-day reduction in the early-voting period; the end of preregistration, which allowed some people to sign up before their 18th birthdays; and the repeal of a provision that allowed for the counting of ballots cast outside voters' home precinct.

It also left intact North Carolina's voter identification requirement, which legislators softened last year to permit residents to cast ballots, even if they lack the required documentation, if they submit affidavits.

The ruling could have significant repercussions in North Carolina, a state that Barack Obama barely won in 2008, and that the Republican Mitt Romney barely won four years later.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which sits in Richmond, Va., will be the first to consider an appeal, which the law's opponents said they would pursue. If the Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court does not intervene, the changes will be in force when voters go to the polls this autumn. North Carolina voters will also elect a governor in what is expected to be one of this year's most competitive state races.

The ruling is an early signal of how federal judges might regard changes and challenges to voting laws in the aftermath of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively eliminated a portion of the Voting Rights Act that had forced nine states, mostly in the South, to obtain advance federal approval before changing their election laws.

"North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system," Judge Schroeder said near the end of his 485-page opinion. The judge, an appointee of President George W. Bush, found that North Carolina's system was not beyond "the mainstream of other states."

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, who in August 2013 signed the bill scaling back the voter access provisions, welcomed the decision. He said in a statement that "this ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common sense, it's constitutional."

But critics vowed to appeal the ruling, and charged, as they often have, that the legislature sought to eliminate tools that made it easier for everyone, but particularly minority voters, to get to the polls. …

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