Courts have dealt setbacks in three states to Republican efforts that critics contend restrict voting rights—blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin, and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas. The rulings Friday came as the 2016 election moves into its final phase, with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton locked in a high-stakes presidential race and control of the U.S. Senate possibly hanging in the balance. North Carolina is one of about a dozen swing states in the presidential race, while Wisconsin has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections and Kansas has been solidly Republican. The decisions followed a similar blow earlier this month to what critics said was one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws in Texas. The New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Texas’ voter ID law is discriminatory and must be weakened before the November election.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked North Carolina’s law that limited to six the number of acceptable photo IDs. The law also curtailed early voting and eliminated same-day registration. The court said the North Carolina provisions targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.”
Critics of photo ID requirements say they fall disproportionately on minority voters and the poor, who are less likely to have an ID such as a driver’s license and tend to vote Democratic. Supporters say they photo IDs are needed to combat voter fraud. Election-law expert Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine said the Obama administration took on the North Carolina and Texas cases as a bulwark against voting restrictions. “If North Carolina and Texas could get away with these voting restrictions, it would have been a green light for other states to do so,” he said. “I think this is a hugely important decision.”
In the Kansas ruling, a county judge said the state must count thousands of votes in local and state elections from people who did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship when they registered. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national leader in Republican voter restriction efforts, had pushed through a rule that would have set those votes aside, perhaps up to 50,000 by the November election.