RALEIGH, N.C. -- A federal judge on Friday ordered elections boards in three North Carolina counties to restore voter registrations canceled too close to Election Day after the NAACP sued over thousands of the challenges.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs issued the ruling after an emergency hearing earlier in the week on NAACP allegations that at least three counties purged voter rolls through a process disproportionately targeting blacks.
Biggs said the local elections boards must "take all steps necessary" to restore voter registrations canceled during the 90 days preceding Election Day on Tuesday.
Early voting ends today in North Carolina, which the NAACP has previously sued over other voter access issues.
The voters' names were removed through challenges filed by activists, which the NAACP said was illegal under federal law because of the proximity to the election.
The NAACP sued over the challenges filed in Cumberland, Moore and Beaufort counties. Challengers include volunteers with the Voter Integrity Project, which says it wants to guard against voter fraud.
State elections officials have said the lawsuit concerned about 4,500 people whose registrations were challenged in the 90-day period. It wasn't clear how many of those challenges were successful.
State Board of Elections spokesman Pat Gannon said the board is "working quickly to establish the procedures necessary to fully comply with the court order." However, board attorney Josh Lawson said the state has not yet decided whether it will appeal facets of the ruling, potentially after the election.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said the judge's decision "will help make sure not a single voter's voice is unlawfully taken away." The group, he added, "will not back down and allow this suppression to continue."
In most cases cited by the lawsuit, mail to a voter has been returned as undeliverable, which county boards can accept as evidence that the voter doesn't live there.
Under state law, any voter can challenge another county resident's registration, resulting in a hearing at which the challenger presents evidence, according to a state legal filing. If local officials find probable cause, the challenged voter is given notice of a subsequent hearing. A voter who doesn't rebut the evidence can be removed.
Across the country, lawyers for Democrats are filing lawsuits claiming Republicans and the campaign of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are pushing supporters to intimidate and confront voters on Election Day.
Trump has called on his supporters to act as "election observers" in certain areas of the country to help prevent fraud.
In Ohio, a federal judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against Trump's campaign and his friend and informal adviser, Roger Stone, stating that anyone who engaged in intimidation or harassment inside or near Ohio polling places would face contempt-of-court charges.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin in Cleveland said charges would be filed regardless of political alliance.
Attorneys representing the Democratic Party argued Friday in New Jersey court that the GOP was coordinating with Trump to intimidate voters, accusations that the Republican Party says are not true in that state or in five other states where Democrats are waging similar battles.
Joshua Kaul, an attorney representing the Democratic National Committee, told the judge in Newark on Friday that Trump has "repeatedly encouraged his supporters to engage in vigilante efforts" in the guise of ferreting out potential voter fraud. Kaul said the Republican National Committee is participating.
Bobby Burchfield, an attorney for Republicans, told the judge that party volunteers are engaging in normal poll watching and that Democrats haven't found one instance in which someone was intimidated or prevented from voting.
Judge John Michael Vazquez did not immediately rule.
Information for this article was contributed by Josh Cornfield, David Porter and staff members of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/05/2016
Print Headline: 3 N.C. counties told to restore voter lists