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Recent court rulings strike down discriminatory voting laws in several states

Free Press staff, wire reports | 8/5/2016, 6:40 a.m.
In a heated election year, federal and state courts are rejecting Republican-backed voting restrictions after finding their sole purpose is ...
A North Carolina election worker checks a voter’s ID during the March presidential primary election. However, such ID checks may not be needed in the upcoming Nov. 8 election. A new ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, struck down the state’s ID rules and other voting restrictions as a targeted effort to keep African-Americans from voting. Chris Keane/Reuters

In a heated election year, federal and state courts are rejecting Republican-backed voting restrictions after finding their sole purpose is to limit voting by African-Americans, Latinos, the poor and other minority groups that lean Democratic.

In rulings last Friday that could pave the way for bigger turnouts on Election Day, courts struck down such laws in the key election states of North Carolina, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Marc Elias, an attorney whose law firm challenged voting restrictions in several states, including Wisconsin and North Carolina, said the recent rulings are steps in correcting “voting restriction laws put in place by Republican legislators.”

There’s been a concerted effort by Republicans nationwide since President Obama was first elected in 2008 to turn back voting rights and laws improving access to the polls that had been in place since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, he said.

The decisions follow a similar blow to a Texas law that critics said was one of the nation’s most restrictive. On July 20, the conservative New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found Texas’ voter ID law discriminatory and ordered it changed before the November election to ensure it does not serve as a barrier to people trying to cast ballots.

The biggest victory for voting rights advocates may have come in the North Carolina case that knocked down another far-reaching effort to block people from voting.

A federal appeals court based in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, struck down a 2013 law that the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature imposed after finding the law “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision in a major victory for the Obama administration, the NAACP, the ACLU and other supporters of voting rights.

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote the appellate decision that bars North Carolina from employing any of the restrictions the law put in place. The court found that the “legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise” in the state’s modern history.

Judge Motz wrote that the backers of the omnibus law imposed “cures for problems that did not exist” in agreeing with challengers that there was no evidence to support the main justification — that the law blocked voter fraud.

With the November election less than 100 days away, the court’s decision blocks the state from requiring IDs at the polls, from limiting early voting and from barring same-day voter registration.

“If North Carolina and Texas could get away with these voting restrictions, it would have been a green light for other states to do so,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine.

He noted that the U.S. Justice Department brought both the North Carolina and Texas cases, the most important since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key voting protection element in the federal Voting Rights Act in 2013. That decision cleared the way for the current spate of Republican efforts to limit voting.