RALEIGH (WTVD) --The U.S. Supreme Court refused Wednesday to reinstate North Carolina's voter identification requirement and keep just 10 days of early in-person voting. The court rejected a request by Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials to delay a lower court ruling that found the state law was tainted by racial discrimination.
The decision - a victory for voting rights groups and President Barack Obama's Justice Department - means voters won't have to show one of several qualifying photo IDs when casting ballots in the presidential battleground state. Early voting also reverts to 17 days, to begin Oct. 20.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down several parts of the law last month, saying they were approved by Republican legislators with intentional bias against black voters in mind. Lawyers for McCrory and the state officials - some hired by GOP legislative leaders who championed the 2013 law - disagreed with the 4th Circuit ruling and wanted a delay while they draft an appeal on legal arguments they want the Supreme Court to consider.
"North Carolina has been denied basic voting rights already granted to more than 30 other states to protect the integrity of one person, one vote through a common-sense voter ID law," McCrory said in a statement. "Even without any support from our state's attorney general, we were pleased that four justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, agreed with this right while four liberal justices blocked North Carolina protections afforded by our sensible voter laws."
The voting adjustments could benefit Democrats in the November election, since registered Democrats historically have favored using early voting. Evidence presented during the trial over the 2013 law says black residents disproportionately lack photo ID required by North Carolina's mandate. Black voters traditionally have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in North Carolina.
"Today we achieved another major victory for justice, African Americans, Latinos, and all North Carolinians," said the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP. "The highest Court in the land has rejected the State's efforts to implement election provisions found by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to have been enacted with discriminatory intent. This critical rejection of the State's position will allow the people of North Carolina to exercise the fundamental right to vote this November without expansive restrictions by racist politicians or racist policies."
Attorneys who sued over the law told the justices last week keeping voter ID and 10 days of early voting in place would irreparably harm minority voters hurt by these policies.
They said arguments by the state were misguided that making voting rules different in the general election compared to the primaries would cause confusion. Voter ID was required during the state's two primary elections this year and 10 days of early voting have been in place since 2014.
In fact, the plaintiffs' lawyers said, it would be even worse to keep the requirements in place when election officials are now re-arranging voting procedures based on the 4th Circuit decision July 29.
"Today's ruling is a victory for North Carolina voters. It provides clarity for our voting laws as we swiftly approach this fall's election," said We are pleased that the 4th Circuit Court's ruling will stand, which recognized that this sweeping voter suppression law placed undue burdens on millions of North Carolina voters," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC. "North Carolinians can now confidently look forward to having the option of using same-day voter registration this fall. However, it is vital that the court decision be recognized and embraced by boards of elections across the state, and that a full complement of early voting sites be made available for this election."
McCrory and Republican legislative leaders have said voter ID is a commonsense requirement to increase the integrity of elections. They pointed out black voter turnout increased in 2014. Appeals court judges said the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address.
A trial court judge in April had upheld the 2013 law, but the 4th Circuit panel wrote he seemed "to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees" by failing to recognize a link between race and politics in North Carolina.
"The Supreme Court was correct to deny North Carolina's last-ditch effort to undermine African-American voter participation in the November election. This ruling means that thousands of voters who would have been disenfranchised will now be able to participate in the presidential election," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.
The challenged provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision," said the 4th Circuit ruling, which also struck down provisions eliminating same-day registration during the early voting period and the counting of Election Day ballots cast by a person outside of their home precinct. The state didn't ask the Supreme Court to restore these provisions.
"Now that the Supreme Court has settled the law for this fall, it's time for Gov. McCrory and Republican leaders to end the costly wrangling and invest in making sure voters face no new roadblocks to having their voices heard when Early Voting begins on October 20," said Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall.
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