A federal judge has rejected a request by the NAACP and other organizations to block the new voter ID requirement for the March primaries.
That does not decide the arguments over whether North Carolina will require IDs at the polls. A trial is set for the issue on Jan. 25.
The NAACP and others have contended that requiring IDs to vote disproportionately affects minority voters, who don’t always have access to birth certificates and other documents needed for the identification cards. The requirement that voters show one of the state-approved photo identification cards was included in a 2013 election law overhaul shepherded through the Republican-led General Assembly and signed by the governor.
Supporters of the ID requirement contend it is designed to prevent voter fraud.
“We appreciate the court’s thoughtful opinion, which not only rejects the plaintiffs’ desperate, partisan attempts to block a commonsense photo ID requirement just weeks before early voting is set to begin, but also validates the state’s comprehensive two-year effort to educate all North Carolinians about the new law,” state Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, and state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County, said in a joint statement after the judge’s decision. “Like the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians who support photo ID, we are pleased voters will have this reasonable requirement in place for the March primary to help preserve the integrity of their elections.”
In 2015, shortly before a federal trial was set to begin on a challenge to the ID portion of the overhaul, the legislature amended the rule to permit people without an ID to vote if they can show a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one.
The NAACP and other organizations contend the amendment further confused an already confused public on what is needed to cast a ballot in primary elections, which North Carolina has moved up to March 15. They asked the judge to block the ID requirement until the issue is settled at trial.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder entered a ruling on Friday rejecting that request, saying that it would offer “only a speculative benefit” at this point and that voters would be even more confused.
Last week, the Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said at a news conference that the State Board of Elections’ education campaign, which stresses that voters should bring IDs, sends “clouded, unclear messages” because it buries information about the “reasonable impediment declaration.” Barber said there are ways to cast a ballot without photo identification.
But Kim Strach, the board’s executive director, said its publications and ads properly explain the law. Strach said the NAACP might lead people to conclude incorrectly that they don’t need to bring IDs even if they have them.
She sent Barber a letter Thursday explaining her concerns.
“A voter who simply does not wish to bring photo ID is not able truthfully to sign the required declaration,” Strach wrote. “That is why our materials emphasize the general rule that voters present acceptable photo ID, and then note that exceptions are available.
“Overbroad statements that cast photo ID requirements as merely optional are both counterproductive and damaging to the elections process,” she added.
Since fall, attorneys for both sides have tried to reach consensus on the ID portion of the larger challenge to the 2013 election law changes.
In a Dec. 29 status report, the challengers reiterated their request to block the implementation of the ID rule for the March primaries.
In addition to their concerns about the state board’s education campaigns, the NAACP and other challengers of the voter ID law want more specifics on the range of authority that will be granted to county boards of election for considering the validity of such declarations.
“The photo ID requirement is discriminatory and should be overturned,” Barber said in a statement after Schroeder rejected the request for an injunction. “While the legislature attempted to mask their discriminatory intentions behind inadequate modifications to the law, the impact of the law remains the same: voters of color will lose their right to vote at disproportionate rates. This defies the logic of an inclusive democracy.”
Barber and others behind the legal challenge said the rejection of the injunction request will not deter their efforts to overturn that portion of the elections law overhaul.