by Michael Wines and Alan Blinder
A federal appeals court decisively struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law on Friday, saying its provisions deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls.
The sweeping 83-page decision by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upended voting procedures in a battleground state about three months before Election Day. That ruling and a second wide-ranging decision on Friday, in Wisconsin, continued a string of recent court opinions against restrictive voting laws that critics say were created solely to keep minority and other traditionally Democratic voters away from the polls.
The North Carolina ruling tossed out the state’s requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls and restored voters’ ability to register on Election Day, to register before reaching the 18-year-old voting age, and to cast early ballots, provisions the law had fully or partly eliminated.
The court also held that the ballots of people who had mistakenly voted at the wrong polling stations should be deemed valid.
In the Wisconsin decision, Judge James D. Peterson of Federal District Court ruled that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are unconstitutional. He ordered the state to make photo IDs more easily available to voters and to broaden the range of student IDs that are accepted at the ballot box.
The decision also threw out other rules that lengthened the residency requirement for newly registered voters, banned distributing absentee ballots by fax or email and sharply restricted the locations and times at which municipal voters, many of them Milwaukee blacks, could cast absentee ballots in person.
Judge Peterson’s sharply worded 119-page ruling suggested that Wisconsin’s voter restrictions, as well as voter ID restrictions in Indiana that have been upheld in the Supreme Court, exist only to suppress votes.