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Appeals Court Puts Some Voting Law Changes On Hold

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Federal appeals court judges ruled this afternoon that African-Americans in North Carolina would suffer irreparable harm if parts of the state's election overhaul is not put on hold this November. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled the state must still allow same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, but a shorter early voting period will remain.

The federal appeals court judges ruled that parts of North Carolina's sweeping election overhaul are likely to violate the Voting Rights Act.

Irving Joyner, who helped craft the NAACP’s legal strategy, called it one of the most important voting rights opinions.

"It just reaffirmed the legal position that we’ve taken all along with respect to what the General Assembly was attempting to do with these laws," said Joyner.

The U.S. Justice Department, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and other groups are suing North Carolina over the changes Republican lawmakers passed last year. They include cutting the early voting period by a week, eliminating same-day registration, and no longer counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

The full trial is next summer, so for now, the plaintiffs had to prove that African-Americans would suffer irreparable harm this November if the changes stood. The federal appeals court ruled that's the case with same-day registration and out-of-precinct ballotsin part because African-Americans in North Carolina disproportionately rely on the options the state wants to get rid of.

Gov. Pat McCrory says the state will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I am pleased that the major parts of this popular and common sense bill were left intact and apply to the upcoming election. I have instructed our attorneys to appeal to the Supreme Court so that the two provisions rejected today can apply in the future and protect the integrity of our elections," McCrory says in a prepared statement.

The director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Casey Mann, is encouraged by the court’s decision.

"I know that this is just merely another step along the path for the legal battles for this law, but I’m hopeful we’re moving in the right direction," said Mann.  

North Carolina will have to offer same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting. The judges said the state can still use the shorter early voting period, because changing that would be too big a burden this close to the election. The number of early voting hours will remain almost the same as in 2010, which is what the law requires. However, some counties have received exemptions allowing them to hold fewer hours.

Gov. Pat McCrory called the early voting changes a big portion of the law.

"I am pleased that the major parts of this popular and common sense bill were left intact and apply to the upcoming election," said McCrory. 

The state plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and ask for a stay on today's ruling.

This decision does not impact the voter ID requirement since that doesn't take effect until 2016.  But House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger ignored that in a joint statement and wrongly said the appeals court upheld voter ID.

“We are pleased the court upheld the lion’s share of commonsense reforms that bring North Carolina in line with a majority of other states, including the implementation of a popular voter ID requirement supported by nearly three quarters of North Carolinians," said Berger and Tillis.