Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
This third ruling against photo voter ID mandates could signal the end of the battle.
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Friday to block North Carolina’s voter ID law on the basis that it was passed with the intention to discriminate against people of color. In addition to the photo-ID mandate, the law, passed in 2013, cut the early-voting period and stripped away people’s ability to register to vote on the same day as they cast their ballot. The law was passed despite the fact that African Americans relied on these provisions in past elections more than white voters did, and despite being far less like likely to have a photo-ID drivers license than white voters.
Civil rights advocates sued the state over the voter ID law for these reasons, but a lower court rejected that challenge back in April. Friday’s ruling from the Fourth Circuit Appeals court reverses that decision.
“In North Carolina, restriction of voting mechanisms and procedures that most heavily affect African Americans will predictably redound to the benefit of one political party and to the disadvantage of the other,” reads the ruling. “As the evidence in the record makes clear, that is what happened here.”
Election law expert Rick Hasen said on his popular blog that the declaration of discriminatory intent could lead to North Carolina coming back under federal supervision of its election matters—supervision that only ended when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act three years ago. Prior to that ruling, North Carolina was one of a cadre of Southern states that needed federal approval before making voting changes (like requiring photo ID) because of its history of racial discrimination at the polls.
“With surgical precision, North Carolina tried to eliminate voting practices disproportionately used by African Americans,” said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a press statement. “This ruling is a stinging rebuke of the state’s attempt to undermine African-American voter participation, which had surged over the last decade.”
It is the third court ruling this month to scale back voter-ID requirements: Similar rulings came down recently in Texas and Wisconsin. But North Carolina’s law has generally been regarded as the worst of the voter-ID bunch, having relegated its black voters to living in “electoral apartheid” conditions.
“We applaud the appeals court for recognizing the discriminatory intent behind and effect wrought by the 2013 monster law,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice senior attorney Allison Riggs in a press statement. “Because of this ruling, North Carolinians will now be able to register and vote free of the obstacles created by the Legislature in 2013.”