Far-reaching voting changes in North Carolina approved by Republicans three years ago and upheld by a federal judge now head to an appeals court that previously sided with those challenging the law on racial grounds. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals scheduled oral arguments Tuesday, just two months after a lower court ruled photo identification requirements to vote in person, early-voting restrictions and other changes violated neither the federal Voting Rights Act nor the Constitution. The appeals court’s decision to accelerate review of the case reinforces the stakes involved with the outcome in an election year, particularly in North Carolina. The presidential battleground state also has big races for governor and U.S. Senate on the fall ballot. “The legislative actions at issue must be analyzed in the context of the high levels of racially polarized voting in North Carolina, where many elections are sensitive to even slight shifts in voting,” lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department wrote in a brief heading into the arguments before three judges in Richmond, Virginia.
The 2013 law being challenged by the department, state NAACP and other groups and voters required voters to show one of six qualifying IDs before casting a ballot. A change to the law last summer granted more exceptions to those unable to obtain an ID. The photo ID mandate began with the March 15 primary. Close to 20 states have photo ID mandates, including a Texas law that is now being examined by the full 5th Circuit.
The law also reduced early-voting by seven days, eliminated same-day registration during the early-voting period and barred the counting of Election Day ballots cast in the wrong precinct.