RALEIGH --A group of North Carolina voters that wants to expand early in-person voting in the presidential battleground state lost its case before a federal appeals court Wednesday.
A three-judge panel on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion focused on five counties that include cities such as Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. A trial court judge refused the same request last week.
The voters' lawyers argued the counties weren't complying with the 4th Circuit's ruling in July striking down portions of a 2013 law that reduced the early-voting period by seven days. The period now covers 17 days, beginning Thursday. The voters, however, said county or state election officials should have allowed additional early voting on Sunday, during the first seven days of the period, or on the Saturday afternoon before Election Day.
Lawyers for the state and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory told the courts that county and state election boards abided by the ruling, which reverted ballot-access laws to where they were before the 2013 law approved by Republican legislators. They also wrote this week that making 11th-hour changes would create more voting confusion and administrative burdens on election officials.
The court clerk, on behalf of the three judges who struck down the 2013 law, filed a three-sentence order denying the voters' request. It wasn't immediately clear if the voters would seek relief at the U.S. Supreme Court. The panel ruled in July that Republicans had approved the 2013 law with "discriminatory intent" against black voters because they disproportionately support Democrats.
A state judge already extended a voter-registration deadline until Wednesday in the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew. But that deadline only applies to people who wish to mail an absentee ballot or want to vote on Election Day.
People can still register to vote and cast their ballots if they visit an early-voting center anywhere in the state, but residents pushed out of their homes by Matthew's record floods may find any of the voting options challenging.
There are 6.8 million registered voters in North Carolina. Early in-person voting is wildly popular, representing 56 percent of the ballots cast in the 2012 presidential election.
In addition to the presidential race this year, North Carolina has races for governor, U.S. Senate, Congress and several statewide elected positions.
Joining the motion for additional early voting was Marc Elias, the top lawyer for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The campaign isn't a party in the case, but Republicans have pointed out the connection.