A Wake County judge has refused a request from state lawmakers to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Voter ID requirement.
Judge Mike Morgan issued his ruling on Wednesday, almost four weeks after a hearing on the matter.
Lawmakers amended the state's Voter ID requirement this legislative session on the eve of a trial in federal court.
Attorneys for state lawmakers and the governor contended at the August hearing in state court that the legislative amendment to the requirement – offering voters without an approved ID the option of using a provisional ballot – made the lawsuit moot.
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Attorneys for the challengers disagreed and Morgan found in their favor.
In the lawsuit before Morgan, the League of Women Voters, Randolph Institute and several voters argue that lawmakers overstepped the bounds of the state constitution in 2013 when they added the ID requirement as part of an elections law overhaul.
They contend that the first article of the N.C. Constitution governs voter qualifications. When the article was adopted in 1868, when North Carolina was under military rule in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, the qualifications set out were minimal – a person must be at least 18, a North Carolina resident and not a felon, unless rights of citizenship had been restored.
Though the N.C. Constitution explicitly allows the General Assembly to enact laws governing the registration of voters, the challengers contend, lawmakers cannot change voter qualifications without North Carolina voters themselves weighing in on the matter.
Critics of the state voter ID requirement have taken a two-pronged approach to challenging the change in election law. They have filed lawsuits in federal and state court.
At issue in the lawsuit to be considered by Judge Morgan is whether requiring IDs at the polls should be considered a “qualification” for voting or an extension of the registration process, which lawmakers have the authority to tweak.
At the federal level, the challengers contend requiring voters to present IDs has a discriminatory impact on African-American, Hispanic and young voters.
Questions of racial disparities also have been raised in the state court case.
Advocates of the ID requirement contend it prevents fraud, though few cases have been prosecuted. They also argue that an ID is required for many things in modern society and that acquiring one is not a burden nor any more difficult for one race than another.
Critics argue otherwise.
In addition to allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Morgan granted a temporary halt to the proceedings to give the challengers time to amend their lawsuit and view the practical effects of the ID rule.
The proceedings are halted until after the 2016 presidential primary in North Carolina.
A proposal has been put forward in the N.C. legislature to move the presidential primary and all other state primaries to March 15.
As the law stands now, the ID provision in effect for the primary will require voters to show one of the seven approved forms of photo identification. The "reasonable impediment" provision also will be in effect, offering voters who did not have an ID an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if they could show an impediment prevented them from getting an ID.
Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1