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Court of appeals strikes down North Carolina voter ID law, citing "racially discriminatory intent"

The ruling follows a similar circuit court decision last week that struck down a voter ID law in Texas.

by Adam Hamze
Jul 29 2016, 7:03pm

Photo by EPA

Just over a week after voter ID laws were struck down in Texas, a federal appeals court did the same in North Carolina, unanimously voting that the laws "were passed with racially discriminatory intent."

Following the ruling, voters in North Carolina will not be required to show identification before casting their ballots. Additionally, the judges granted an extra week of early voting in the state. The law, which was put in place in 2013, also eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting. The federal appeals court reversed all these prohibitions.

"We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent," Judge Diana Motz wrote on behalf of Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd.

Studies have shown the requirement to show identification disproportionately excludes poor people of color from the electoral process, a conclusion the judges seem to agree with.

A study from the University of California-San Diego found in the 2008 and 2012 general elections, Latino turnout was 10.3 percent lower in states with voter ID requirements similar to North Carolina's. The study also found an 11.9 percent gap between white and Latino voters in states that require identification at the polls, but only a 5.3 percent gap in states that do not.

Black activists pressured President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass The Voting Rights Act of 1965, in order to combat the racist policies that obstructed black people from voting during the Jim Crow Era. Today, the three democrat-appointed judges decided the North Carolina laws that require voters to brandish certain types of photo IDs at the polls interfered with that act.

Related: A new ruling on voter ID laws could affect the 2016 presidential race

"The record makes clear that the historical origin of the challenged provisions in this statute is not the innocuous back-and-forth of routine partisan struggle that the State suggests and that the district court accepted," Motz continued. "Rather, the General Assembly enacted them in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented African American voter participation in a state with a troubled racial history and racially polarized voting. The district court clearly erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence, all of which supports a finding of discriminatory intent."

While politicians who support voter ID restrictions claim it helps prevent voter fraud, studies have shown that it is a phenomenon that is close to non-existent. In Texas, a state that had its voter ID laws struck down earlier this month, there were 85 fraud prosecutions from 2002-2015 — out of 42 million casted votes. Meanwhile, purchasing driver's licenses or birth certificates can cost up to $25 in some states — a price many less-wealthy voters cannot afford.

Although the judges agreed on striking down the law, there was disagreement on the following steps. Motz supported a temporary ban on requiring a photo ID, while Wynn and Floyd recommended the law be permanently disbanded.

If the North Carolina legislature were to appeal the ruling to 4th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, it's unlikely the decision would be overturned — or upheld — before the general election in November, a win for voting rights advocates throughout the country.

You can follow Adam Hamze on Twitter: @adamhamz