JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Mississippi's status as the only holdout in a brouhaha over a federal election law is over, ended by a court ruling that opens elections next month to thousands more voters.

A panel of three federal judges ordered the state to open elections to all its registered voters, rejecting Mississippi's practice that created separate registrations for state and federal elections.

Mississippi is the only state that has not recognized the 1995 National Voter Registration Act. Commonly known as the Motor Voter law, it lets voters register when getting driver's licenses or applying for welfare benefits.

The U.S. District Court in Jackson since 1995 has refused to force the state to recognize the law, encouraging lawmakers to handle the situation.

Earlier this year, the Legislature voted to conform state law to the federal law, but Gov. Kirk Fordice vetoed the bill. No override was attempted.

This week, the federal panel ordered officials in Mississippi's 82 counties to treat federally registered voters and state registered voters the same.

The impact will be felt immediately, as 40,000 more Mississippians will be allowed to vote in state elections Nov. 3.

Some clerks have already printed ballots with only federal elections for those voters and must discard them. Other clerks said they were relieved to do away with the practice of keeping separate roll books for the two classes of voters.

``I'm as happy as an I-don't-know-what,'' said Barbara Dunn, circuit clerk in Hinds County where nearly 4,000 voters will be affected. ``I'm elated everybody gets to vote in the whole election.''

The ruling by U.S. District Judges Grady Jolly, William Barbour Jr. and Tom S. Lee forces the state to treat all voters the same. But the judges said that lawmakers can come back with another option _ if they get approval of the U.S. Justice Department.