Jim Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, is hailing a federal appeals court ruling that strikes down a North Carolina voter ID law that judges say was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” “Justice was served,” Vincent said Monday. “I am extremely concerned about voter suppression in this year’s presidential election, given how close it could be.” North Carolina is one of about a dozen swing states in the presidential race. Vincent said he’s unsure how Friday’s decision — combined with recent federal court rulings against voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin — could affect Rhode Island’s 2011 voter ID law. “Because it’s the least intrusive voter ID law, it may be the most difficult to overturn,” he said. But Vincent said Friday’s ruling bolsters his argument that Rhode Island’s law was based on scant evidence of voter fraud. And he said it underscores his questions about why Rhode Island simultaneously made it easier to vote by mail ballot, when mail ballot fraud is more common than impersonation at the polls. “The state of Rhode Island is in a state of confusion,” he said.
In Friday’s ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that North Carolina enacted a voter ID requirement, reduced the number of early-voting days and changed registration procedures to target blacks, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic.
“The new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” a judge wrote. “Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices,” and then it passed laws restricting voting and registration in five ways that “disproportionately affected African-Americans.”
Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU’s Rhode Island affiliate, said he doubts Friday’s ruling will lead to a successful challenge to Rhode Island’s voter ID law, in part because the North Carolina case involved a “smoking gun” showing discriminatory intent. Also, Rhode Islanders without required ID can still cast provisional ballots, so their vote counts if their signature matches their registration, he noted.