LAURINBURG —The leader of Scotland County Democrats called last week’s decision to block a North Carolina’s voter ID law, “a huge victory.”
Walter Jackson III, chairman of the Scotland County Democratic Party, applauded the court’s decision that he said should increase participation by more voters on Election Day.
“All in all, this decision is a huge victory for all those who believe that the right to vote is a fundamental human right that should be enjoyed by all Americans regardless of the color of their skin,” Jackson said.
A federal appeals court on Friday unanimously ruled against a North Carolina law that required voters to produce photo identification and included other provisions disproportionately affecting black voters. The judge said the law was enacted “with discriminatory intent.”
Friday’s opinion from a three-judge panel of the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a lower-court’s decision upholding the North Carolina law.
“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” the panel wrote in its opinion.
The opinion later states that “the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
The decision marks the third ruling in less than two weeks against voter ID laws after court decisions regarding Texas and Wisconsin.
North Carolina’s voting laws were rewritten in 2013 by the General Assembly, two years after Republicans took control of both legislative chambers for the first time in a century. It was also shortly after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed the requirement that many Southern states receive federal approval before changing voting laws.
The voter ID mandate, which took effect with this year’s March primary, required voters to show one of six qualifying IDs, although voters facing “reasonable impediments” could fill out a form and cast a provisional ballot.
North Carolina legislators made the photo ID requirement for in-person ballots, curtailed the early voting period and eliminated same-day registration and voters’ ability to cast out-of-precinct provisional ballots in their home counties.
The appeals court said data showed that these methods were used disproportionately by black voters, who also were more likely to lack a qualifying ID, and it ruled to block these contested provisions of the law. The judges wrote that in the years before the North Carolina law took effect, registration and participation by black voters had been dramatically increasing.
The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others had sued North Carolina, saying the restrictions violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
“This is a strong rebuke to what the North Carolina General Assembly did in 2013. It’s a powerful precedent that … federal courts will protect voting rights of voters of color,” said Allison Riggs, who served as the League of Women Voters’ lead lawyer on the case.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said in an interview that the ruling was a powerful victory for civil rights and for democracy.
“It is a vindication of our constitutional and moral critique and challenge to the constitutional extremism of our government,” he said.
Dell Parker, the director the Scotland County Board of Elections, said local elections officials are expected to get an update on what the ruling means during a two-day training next week in Concord.
“What I do know is that we will no longer require photo IDs for the 2016 elections,” Parker said.
According to Parker, the ruling also means that voters:
— Will have an additional seven days of early voting with early voting running from Oct 20 through Nov. 5;
— Will be able to register to vote at an early-voting site on the same day they cast ballots;
— Will have provisional votes counted if they appear at the wrong precinct within their county on Election Day; and
— Will be able to pre-register to vote as sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds.
State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach said her office is currently reviewing the court’s decision.
“We encourage all voters to stay informed of developments over the coming weeks, ” Strach said in a statement. “Absent alternative guidance from the courts, voters will not be asked to show photo identification this election.”
Jackson said he is not clear whether one provision of the 2013 law remains in effect despite the Fourth Circuit’s decision. “That provision required every county to offer the same cumulative number of hours of early voting for this presidential election as the county offered for the 2012 presidential election,” he said. “There is a strong argument that this provision should remain intact because it was not enacted with a discriminatory intent.We are waiting to receive additional guidance on this particular issue.”
Mark Schenck, Robeson County’s Republican Party chair, could not be reached for comment.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023. The Associated Press contributed to this article.