US appeals court strikes down North Carolina voter ID law

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Court Blocks Voter ID Law in North Carolina

A U.S. appeals court on Friday struck down a North Carolinalaw that required voters to show photo identification when casting ballots, ruling that it intentionally discriminated against African-American residents.

The ruling, a victory for rights advocates that will enable thousands of people to vote more easily, is also likely to be seen as a boost for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton going into the election on Nov. 8.

The state is politically important as it does not lean heavily toward either Democrats or Republicans, and Clinton is heavily favored among black Americans over Republican nominee Donald Trump.

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A pile of government pamphlets explaining North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law sits on table at a polling station as the law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students head to their precinct to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The university provided bus transportation throughout the day to the precinct. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: A lone North Carolina State University student, right, votes in the primaries at the provisional ballot booth at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students stand in line to receive their ballots at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students wait in line to vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images )
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University students vote in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 15: North Carolina State University senior Jonathan Powell reviews sample ballots before voting in the primaries at Pullen Community Center on March 15, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina primaries is the state's first use of the voter ID law, which excludes student ID cards. Wake County was among the highest use of provisional ballots, where those voters had home addresses on or near campuses. The Board of Elections will review voter's reasonable impediment form submitted with their provisional ballots to determine if their vote counts. The state's voter ID law is still being argued in federal court. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
A worker carries a sign that will be displayed at a polling place that will inform voters of the new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016 at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Am election worker checks a voter's drivers license as North Carolina's controversial "Voter ID" law goes into effect for the state's presidential primary election at a polling place in Charlotte, North Carolina March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane
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The court's decision also canceled provisions of the law that scaled back early voting, prevented residents from registering and voting on the same day, and eliminated the ability of voters to vote outside their assigned precinct.

Critics argue that such provisions are designed to drive down turnout by minorities and poor people who rely more on flexible voting methods and are less likely to possess state-issued photo IDs. Proponents of such laws say they aim to eliminate voter fraud.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Appeals Court for the Fourth Circuit said the state legislature targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision."

"We cannot ignore the recent evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history," Judge Diana Motz wrote.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the court's ruling upheld Americans' ability "to have a fair and free opportunity to help write the story of this nation," in remarks she delivered on Friday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The Republican leaders of North Carolina's state legislature vowed to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a joint statement they argued the decision ignored legal precedent.

"We can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and (state Attorney General) Roy Cooper to steal the election," said the statement from state lawmakers Phil Berger and Tim Moore.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican who is up for re-election in November, also said the state would appeal the ruling and "review other potential options."

The chances of any appeal being heard before the election appeared slim. The state's board of elections said the law's voting rules would not be in effect in November, "absent alternative guidance from the courts."

Voting rights advocates heralded the court's decision as a major victory.

"This ruling is a stinging rebuke of the state's attempt to undermine African-American voter participation, which had surged over the last decade," Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

North Carolina's legislature passed the voting law weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 in June 2013 to eliminate a requirement that states with a history of discrimination, includingNorth Carolina, receive federal approval before changing election laws.

A campaign spokesman for Cooper said on Friday that the attorney general had "urged the Governor to veto this legislation before he signed it because he knew it would be bad for NorthCarolina."

A Reuters review of the law indicated that as many as 29,000 voters might not have been counted in this November's election if the bans on same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting had remained in effect.

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