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Court blocks parts of N.C. law that ended same-day voter registration

North Carolina debate
North Carolina is home to a competitive midterm contest between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
(Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked some provisions of a North Carolina law that bars same-day voter registration, saying it would disproportionately affect minority voters. 

In a 2-1 decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that North Carolina’s new elections law -- passed last year by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature -- violated a section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibits discrimination based on race.

“There can be no doubt that certain challenged measures in House Bill 589 disproportionately impact minority voters,” wrote the court in a 69-page decision that orders a lower court to halt the enforcement of the law less than five weeks before the November midterm elections.

The ruling also orders a district court to block a provision of the new law that bans out-of-precinct voting.  

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Since the law was passed, such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People have assailed it as disenfranchising minority voters.

According to Democracy North Carolina, a left-leaning group, black voters in 2012 made up 29% of the state’s early voters and 34% of same-day registration voters.

The law has faced several challenges, but lower courts had largely upheld it.

“We are pleased with the Circuit Court’s ruling today,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said in a statement. “The evidence clearly showed that, under North Carolina’s voter suppression law, African Americans would have faced higher barriers to the ballot this November, and the court took an important step to ensure that this election will remain free, fair and accessible to all North Carolina voters. 

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Officials in North Carolina said an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely to come as early as Thursday.

“We are concerned that changes so close to the election may contribute to voter confusion,” Executive Director Kim Westbrook Strach of the State Board of Elections, said in a statement. “More than 4 million voter guides have gone to the public with information contrary to today’s decision.”   

The Circuit Court on Wednesday did affirm a lower court’s ruling that allows the state to limit the number of early on-site voting days from 17 to 10. 

North Carolina is home to a competitive midterm contest between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. 

“The big one is early voting days and that wasn’t touched. Still, the same-day issue is now another wrinkle in this wild midterm election,” said John Davis, a Raleigh, N.C.,-based political analyst. 

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