U.S. judge declines to stop North Carolina's election law changes

WINSTON-SALEM N.C. Fri Aug 8, 2014 6:55pm EDT

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WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge refused on Friday to halt North Carolina's overhauled election law ahead of the midterm vote this November, allowing the provisions, decried by critics as discriminatory, to remain in effect - at least temporarily.

District Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled that opponents who sued to block the law had failed to show they were likely to suffer irreparable harm if the sweeping changes stayed in place until a trial set for July 2015.

Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups argued at a hearing in Winston-Salem last month that a preliminary injunction was needed to protect African Americans and young voters from having their ballot access unreasonably restricted or denied.

The state's Republican-led legislature in 2013 shortened North Carolina's early voting period by seven days, ended same-day registration, banned provisional ballots cast outside the correct precinct from being counted and ended a program allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

Attorneys for the state said the changes in dispute apply equally to all races.

The groups who challenged the law included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Today is not the end of the fight to stop these discriminatory measures, which make it harder for all North Carolinians to vote," said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. "We are disappointed in the court's ruling but heartened that the government's efforts to avoid a full trial in this case were rejected."

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Eric Beech and Jim Loney)

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