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NC Voting Laws Head to Court Today, Again

A federal appeals court hears oral arguments in the ongoing case against North Carolina's controversial voting law changes, put in place in 2013. (morguefile)
A federal appeals court hears oral arguments in the ongoing case against North Carolina's controversial voting law changes, put in place in 2013. (morguefile)
June 21, 2016

RALEIGH, N. C. – A federal appeals court hears oral arguments today on the issue of North Carolina's 2013 Election Reform Law, which opponents say violates the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.

The law requires photo identification at the polls and puts in place early voting restrictions, in addition to other changes.

In April, a lower court ruled the law was not in violation of voters' civil rights. Today, the case heads back to the Fourth Circuit, the same court that ordered the state to restore same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in 2014.

That has made Allison Riggs – senior staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and one of the plaintiffs in the suit – hopeful that the court will decide in the plaintiffs' favor.

"We think the facts are largely undisputed and support our claim, and that the court below just misunderstood the legal standards and misapplied them," said Riggs.

The ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed their suit three years ago, when the law was passed.

Supporters of the legislation (HB 589) said it was needed to reduce fraud at the polls, but the State Board of Elections said there is no instance of widespread voter fraud in the state.

Riggs said she expects the Fourth Circuit to issue a ruling this summer, since the outcome will affect what is required of voters at the polls, and the access citizens will have to cast ballots in the November general election. That's if, she says, the state doesn't appeal using taxpayer dollars.

"The state has spent a lot of money defending these discriminatory laws," Riggs said. "My hope is that when the Fourth Circuit rules in our favor, they will say, 'Lesson learned. Let's use this money for something more productive, something to promote participation in the political process, rather than to restrict it.'"

When HB 589 was passed, the U.S. Department of Justice also filed suit against North Carolina, citing violation of civil rights. Since then, that case has been consolidated into the one before the court today.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC