A federal appeals court decisively struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law on Friday, saying its provisions deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls.
The sweeping 83-page decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upended voting procedures in a battleground state about three months before Election Day. That ruling and a second wide-ranging decision on Friday, in Wisconsin, continued a string of recent court opinions against restrictive voting laws that critics say were created solely to keep minority and other traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.
The North Carolina ruling tossed out the state’s requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls and restored voters’ ability to register on Election Day, to register before reaching the 18-year-old voting age, and to cast early ballots, provisions the law had fully or partly eliminated….
In the Wisconsin decision, Judge James D. Peterson of Federal District Court ruled that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are unconstitutional. He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available to voters and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the ballot box.
The decision also threw out other rules that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters, banned distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and sharply restricted the locations and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.
Judge Peterson’s sharply worded 119-page ruling suggested that Wisconsin’s voter restrictions, as well as voter ID restrictions in Indiana that have been upheld in the Supreme Court, exist only to suppress votes.
“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter ID laws foster integrity and confidence,” he wrote. “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections.’’
The court decisions — the third and fourth federal rulings in recent weeks against Republican-enacted voting restrictions — were made as the two political parties raced from their summer conventions into the critical final months of the campaign, with Wisconsin, like North Carolina, considered a contested state.
North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature rewrote the state’s voting rules in 2013 shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had given the Justice Department the power to oversee changes in election procedures in areas with a history of racial discrimination….
Civil rights advocates and the Justice Department had sued to block the law, but a Federal District Court judge upheld it in April, writing that the state’s “significant, shameful past discrimination” had largely abated in the last 25 years.
On Friday, the three-judge panel emphatically disagreed, saying the lower court’s amply documented ruling had failed to consider “the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”
The judges noted that Republican leaders had drafted their restrictions on voting only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would be the voters most significantly affected by them.
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