State Politics

Two sides negotiate voter ID provision

Attorneys on both sides of the lawsuits challenging the 2013 state election law overhaul are trying to find common ground on North Carolina’s voter ID law and plan to report the results of their efforts to a judge next month.

Lawyers for the NAACP and others offered that detail in an update to the federal judge presiding over the cases that will determine which rules govern elections in North Carolina next year.

They plan to report to the judge on Sept. 17 as part of a trial that could test the breadth of protections for African-Americans with claims of voter disenfranchisement two years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder presided over three weeks of arguments in July on parts of the challenge that did not include the requirement that N.C. voters show one of six photo identification cards to cast a ballot.

The legislature amended that portion of the law on the eve of the trial, setting up a request from the challengers for deeper review of the broader implications of the changes.

In June, both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly added a process to the ID requirement that offered voters the option of using a provisional ballot when they were eligible to vote but did not have one of six stated IDs.

The specified reasons include a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, or a lack of a birth certificate or other documents to obtain photo ID.

Voters could then fill out a form, providing their date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or show a voter registration card to prove their identity and cast a provisional ballot.

The N.C. photo ID requirement is set to take effect in 2016. Advocates contend it will prevent voter ID fraud, but in the federal trial last month, Kim Strach, executive director of the State Board of Elections, testified that there have been two cases of someone impersonating another voter in 15 years and two more alleged this spring.

At the federal court hearing in July, Schroeder heard arguments about cuts to the number of days in the early voting period, the elimination of same-day voter registration that allowed registering and voting on the same day and the prohibition of voters casting ballots out of their assigned precincts. The judge also heard arguments about the abolishment of preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Schroeder decided before the July hearing that the legal challenge to the photo ID requirement would be dealt with later.

Schroeder’s decision came after attorneys for the state and governor sought dismissal of the case because of the June amendment to the ID law. The attorneys argued that there no longer were any constitutional issues at play, but the judge disagreed.

In court documents submitted Monday, attorneys representing the state NAACP and other plaintiffs said their pending claims “may be able to be resolved through discussion and negotiations with Defendants.”

The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, an organization challenging the ID provision and other parts of the 2013 election law overhaul, said the plaintiffs still think the photo ID requirement discriminates against African-American, Hispanic and other groups of voters.

He also said he worried that state election officials have not adequately educated the public about the new status of the ID law nor had county election officials been properly trained to help voters navigate the process.

Some voters, Barber contends, might not readily understand the form, known as a “reasonable impediment declaration,” they would be required to sign to vote without an ID.

“It’s just another back-door way of doing a literacy test,” Barber said Wednesday.

Literacy tests have been used in the past in North Carolina as a barrier to voting for African-Americans and others who did not have equal access to education.

Attorneys representing the state and Gov. Pat McCrory submitted a document to the federal court on Monday seeking again to dismiss the legal challenge to the photo ID requirement.

They also argued that the federal appeals court that struck down the Texas voter ID law proposed something similar to the changes adopted by the N.C. legislature in June.

The challengers had a different interpretation of the Texas decision, saying the appeals court called the law, described as one of the strictest in the country, a breach of the Voting Rights Act.

Though a possible settlement could emerge from the discussions in the coming weeks, Barber said neither the NAACP nor other challengers plan to back down from what they perceive to be new election law requirements that he contends hampes the ability to vote.

“At the end of the day, we are going to protect and defend the constitutional rights of African-Americans, Latinos and others to vote,” Barber said.