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Federal court finds 'discriminatory intent,' rejects N.C. voter ID law

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s voter-identification law Friday, acknowledging the state’s history of racial and voting discrimination.

Reversing a district court ruling in April, the 83-page opinion struck down the state’s use of a photo ID requirement and other provisions in its 2013 voter law — which included changes to early voting, pre-registration and same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting. The 4th Circuit includes Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“...Intentionally targeting a particular race's access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a particular manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose,” Judge Dana Gribbon Motz said, writing for the court.

The 4th Circuit decided that the N.C. General Assembly used the 2013 voter ID law to “entrench itself," and that it engaged in intentional racial discrimination to do so.

For Theodore Shaw, a UNC law professor and director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, the ruling represented a significant turning point for voter participation.

Shaw said the Court ultimately ruled that the state legislature created a solution to find a problem.

“I think it’s a good day for democracy,” he said. “It’s a good day for civil rights.”

‘Maligning our state’

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has already said there will be an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Photo IDs are required to purchase sudafed, cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal court room. Yet, three Democratic judges are undermining the integrity of our elections while also maligning our state,” McCrory said in a statement.

Legislative leaders also denounced the ruling as being politically driven. Senate President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, weighed in with a joint statement.

“We can only wonder if the intent (of the Court’s decision) is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election,” Berger and Moore said.

And it was absurd that the court cited race in its decision, said Susan Myrick, an election policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Civitas Institute.

“No one has been able to point to a single example of a voter being disenfranchised as a result of this law and in fact, voter turnout has increased since the law was enacted,” she said.

Discriminatory intent

But Shaw said the voter ID law placed a burden on the poor and citizens like his grandmother — who never had access to her birth certificate and never had a passport.

The appeals court ruled the state’s photo ID law was too restrictive to some while not restrictive enough to truly prevent voter fraud.

“You can talk about voter fraud, but the reality is as it’s been described, (the law is) a solution in search of a problem — because it’s virtually nonexistent,” Shaw said.

Though the 4th Circuit said items like the elimination of same-day registration might not be “unreasonable,” its three-judge panel said it was a far cry from deciding the law had been enacted without considering race.

The state has not yet released information on voting procedure and the impacts of the 4th Circuit ruling, according to Kaylor Robinson, elections assistant at the Orange County Board of Elections.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, said without an immediate appeal, the voter ID law would not be in effect this election.

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With only eight Supreme Court justices, Shaw said he thinks the 4th Circuit ruling is likely to stand even if it is appealed.

“I’d be very happy if (the state) had a change of heart and said, ‘You know, the 4th Circuit has decided this is going to promote democratic inclusion.’ I don’t want to sound naive but I’d be happy if that happened,” Shaw said.