Federal appeals court to hear arguments on North Carolina voter ID law

A federal appeals court is hearing arguments Tuesday on whether it was legal for North Carolina to require photo identification to cast in-person ballots and make other voting changes that critics say discriminate against minorities.

A three-judge panel will consider an April trial court ruling that upheld the 2013 voter ID mandate and exceptions approved later for people facing obstacles to obtaining one.

The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued the state, saying the restrictions violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals fast-tracked the review in an expected presidential battleground state, with competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Beginning with this year’s March primary, voters must show one of six qualifying IDs, although those with “reasonable impediments” can fill out a form and cast a provisional ballot.

The laws approved by the General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also reduced early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminated same-day registration during early voting and barred the counting of Election Day ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

The plaintiffs say the changes discourage voting by black and Hispanic residents, who use early voting or same-day registration more than white voters and may lack photo ID more.

“This was an attempt to basically take on every voting opportunity procedure that had been put in place to overcome past obstacles” for minorities to cast ballots, said the Rev. William Barber, the state NAACP president, calling it a “monster voter suppression law.”

The law’s authors said the measure prevents voter fraud and increases public confidence in elections.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, who presided over the trial in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, determined the plaintiffs failed to prove that the laws made it harder for minority voters to cast ballots. He focused on higher voter registration and turnout rates among black residents in 2014, when many changes were implemented, compared with 2010.

Attorneys for the state want Schroeder’s ruling intact, arguing in a brief that the laws “simply returned North Carolina’s election system to the mainstream of election systems” used in the country.

Rulings allowed same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting to resume in 2016 for now.

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