By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - A federal judge has blocked North Carolina from implementing a more restrictive verification for voters who register and cast ballots on the same day, agreeing with the state Democratic Party that doing so would cause eligible votes to be thrown out.
The state legislature's Republican majority passed a raft of new voting restrictions last year and overrode Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's veto, including eliminating a post-election grace period for counting absentee ballots and stripping the governor of the authority to appoint members to the state elections board.
The legislation was among new Republican-backed restrictions across the country following the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump falsely attributed his loss to fraud. Trump is favored to win the 2024 Republican nomination and set up a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.
North Carolina is expected to be a closely contested state in this year's presidential contest.
Under the new law, a voter who uses same-day registration is sent a postcard to confirm their address. If the postcard is returned undeliverable, election officials can invalidate the ballot without notifying the voter.
Previously, election officials would send a second postcard. If both were returned undeliverable, the ballot could be legally challenged, and the voter would have a chance to object.
Young voters and minority voters, both groups that tend to vote Democratic, take advantage of same-day registration more frequently. Between 100,000 and 120,000 residents use same-day registration in presidential years, according to the state elections board.
Democrats provided examples in which postcards could not be delivered due to errors by election officials or postal workers.
Republican lawmakers say the provision ensures only eligible votes are counted
But U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder said that Republican legislators "presented no evidence that address verification has ever filtered out a single ineligible same-day registrant." More than 5,000 voters failed address verification over the last four election cycles.
In a statement, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore emphasized that most of the 2023 law remains in effect.
"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," he said.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis)