Politics & Government

NC’s new voter ID law faces state and federal lawsuits

Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session

NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
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NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

A law enacted Wednesday requiring voters show acceptable photo identification when they go to the polls by Thursday was already being challenged in state and federal courts.

The state NAACP and six of its branches filed a federal lawsuit Thursday, and six voters represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit in state court minutes after the bill became law.

The lawsuits have in common the contention that the law discriminates against minority voters. The NAACP lawsuit says the law will be harder on African-American and Latino voters. The lawsuit in state court says the law violates the state constitution because it intentionally discriminates against African-American and American Indian voters.

“This whole effort is designed to minimize the opportunity for African-Americans to get this voter ID and to be able to exercise their constitutional right,” Irving Joyner, a lawyer for the state NAACP, said at a news conference Thursday.

The Republican-led legislature enacted the law over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Legislative Republicans have pursued voter ID for years. In 2013, the state passed voter ID as part of a broad package of new election laws. A federal court overturned the law, saying it “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Republican legislators steered a constitutional amendment for voter photo ID onto the November ballot, and it passed with 55 percent of the vote.

The constitutional amendment does not give the legislature freedom to enact “an intentionally racially discriminatory law,” the Southern Coalition for Social Justice lawyers wrote.

The new photo ID law is more expansive than the 2013 law, making a wider variety of IDs acceptable at the polls, including a new type of free ID available from county boards of election.

During legislative debate, the law’s sponsors talked about how open they were to ideas on how the law should look and the dozens of accommodating changes they made.

“North Carolina’s voter ID law was sponsored by an African American Democrat, guarantees free state-issued IDs for all citizens, accepts a very broad range of qualifying documents, is consistent with laws in more than thirty other states, and allows any voter without a qualifying ID to still cast a provisional ballot by simply signing a form asserting a reasonable impediment to obtaining one,” Joseph Kyzer, House Speaker Tim Moore’s spokesman, said in an email.

Sen. Joel Ford, the African-American Democrat from Charlotte who co-sponsored the voter ID law, said the law includes some of the ideas he put into a bill he helped sponsor in 2013.

‘When you have photo voter ID, you are guaranteeing someone’s right to vote,” Ford said in a phone interview.

“If you are already registered, we will provide with you with one for free. How is that discriminatory?” Ford asked. “You’ve got people crying racism for the sake of crying racism. Racism exists. This ain’t it.”

Barring court intervention, voters will be asked for photo ID beginning with next year’s local primaries.

Help getting an ID

A new organization called Spread the Vote is beginning work in the state to help people get photo IDs. The organization works in five states and is expanding to seven more, including North Carolina, said spokesman Andrew Feldman.

Spread the Vote works to get people the documents they need to obtain certain IDs.

“There are a lot of barriers to getting IDs, especially in the South,” Feldman said. “Folks born in the Jim Crow South, especially African-Americans, did not get birth certificates.”

The IDs can be used not just for voting, but to help people qualify for medical care, housing or jobs, he said.

Ashlei Blue, director of the North Carolina chapter, said people who lost their homes and possessions in hurricanes may not have money to get replacement documents they’ll need for IDs.

Spread the Vote works with churches, homeless shelters, and other groups already in contact with people who may not have identification, Blue said.

“If someone is the victim of a hurricane, they may not have a Social Security card and a birth certificate,” she said. “We’re going to stand in the gap for them.”

Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.

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