April 26, 2016 / 11:21 AM / 3 years ago

Rights groups appeal ruling upholding North Carolina voter ID law

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., April 26 (Reuters) - Civil rights groups and churches opposed to sweeping changes to North Carolina’s election rules said on Tuesday they would ask an appeals court for a reversal after a federal judge upheld provisions they argue will suppress minority votes at the polls in November.

The ruling late on Monday was highly anticipated in a presidential election year in a state that had close results for the White House in 2008 and 2012, and it received praise from the voting law’s Republican backers.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder in Winston-Salem said the state could require voters to show approved photo identification at the polls, one of a number of provisions in the law that challengers have said targets groups of people who typically support Democratic candidates.

Schroeder, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, also upheld provisions that eliminated a week of early voting, ended same-day registration and banned provisional ballots cast outside the correct precinct from being counted.

Lawyers for groups including churches, the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. They said they were confident they would prevail.

“If this decision remained in effect, the impact on the November election could be devastating,” said Penda Hair of the Advancement Project civil rights organization, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The U.S. Justice Department, which also challenged the North Carolina law, said it was evaluating its options for moving forward.

“We’re disappointed in the ruling,” the department said in a statement.

The Republican chairmen of the North Carolina legislature’s elections oversight committee criticized the legal challenges as an abuse of the court system.

“We are glad the court recognized the law provides all voters an equal opportunity to vote,” Representative David Lewis and Senator Bob Rucho said in a statement.

Backers of the law said the voter ID provision would guard against fraud, though the plaintiffs in the case said there was little evidence of such fraud at the polls.

Schroeder found the Republican-controlled legislature did not act with discriminatory intent when it overhauled the state’s voting rules in 2013. The revisions were made soon after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina and other states with a history of discrimination no longer needed federal approval for voting law changes affecting minorities.

The judge also said the plaintiffs had not established that African Americans or Hispanics had less opportunity to participate in the political process than other people as a result of the law. (Additional reporting by Julia Harte in Washington)

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