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Democrats win challenge to North Carolina voter election law

Joe Biden quietly scored a legal victory in North Carolina this week, in what could prove to be a consequential development in a closely divided state.

The Biden campaign notched the win as part of a lawsuit filed a few months back by the Democratic National Committee and the North Carolina Democratic Party. The suit challenged several aspects of the Republican-backed election law, S.B. 747, that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed but the legislature overrode. The law included new rules for voters who registered and cast a ballot on the same day, requiring additional photo ID and address verification — changes Democrats pounced on.

The Dems’ lawsuit, drafted with the help of Biden campaign officials, specifically sought preliminary relief for those same-day registration provisions. Under the new law, voters opting for same-day registration but who don’t get their requirements verified on time could end up having their ballot tossed.

Late Sunday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, sided with Democrats and blocked one provision of the law unless it’s revised. In a 94-page filing, he wrote that the plaintiffs are likely to successfully claim that the law violates the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that it would result in the tossing of legitimate ballots.

Schroeder said that the state failed to show a strong enough reason to prevent these voters’ ballots from being counted if there’s an error by the U.S. Postal Service or poll workers in confirming their address. Under the new law, any voter who uses same-day registration will be sent a postcard to confirm their address. If the postcard is returned undeliverable, election officials can toss the ballot as invalid without telling the voter.

While Schroeder’s ruling is not a total take-down of the sweeping law — which also adds new restrictions, removes the three-day grace period for absentee ballots, and empowers partisan poll watchers — it’s a win for President Joe Biden. His campaign hopes to put North Carolina on the map in 2024, four years after he lost the state to Donald by 1.4 percentage points. More than 100,000 North Carolina voters have used same-day registration during the last two presidential elections — votes that could tip the scales in a tight rematch between Biden and Trump.

While Republicans deemed the law necessary to improve election security, Democrats have denounced it as “voter suppression.”

“This ruling is a huge victory for voting rights — but it is just the beginning. Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans have openly embraced a platform of election denialism and are working tirelessly to restrict the right to vote, particularly in communities of color,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said in a statement to POLITICO. “Our campaign remains committed to protecting and fighting for those sacred rights.”

The court win by the Biden campaign is part of a more aggressive strategy this cycle to fight GOP-authored voting laws. The president’s team said they drew lessons from 2020, when the DNC found the most success in targeted lawsuits against efforts to impose new voting restrictions in state legislatures across the country. The goal here was to successfully overturn some provisions before voters cast ballots in 2024.

“North Carolina Republicans’ voter suppression law had nothing to do with election integrity and everything to do with silencing North Carolinians and undermining their fundamental right to vote,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said. “This ruling marks the first victory of 2024 in our fight to protect voting rights for every American and is a critical first step to ensure all eligible Americans can make their voices heard this November.”

Republicans have downplayed the ruling. Rep. Tim Moore, the North Carolina speaker of the House, and Rep. Grey Mills, the chair of the House Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform, said most of the bill is still in effect. Schroeder denied Dems’ requests for preliminary injunctions for other provisions that affect same-day voters.

“The court order requires relatively minor changes to one small part of the bill, and we are working with our attorneys and the State Board of Elections to ensure that the entire bill is in effect before the primary and general elections this year,” they said. “We will never stop fighting for election integrity on behalf of North Carolina’s voters.”

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