State Politics

North Carolina’s voter ID challenge is getting a status hearing

Attorneys will update a federal judge Friday about their latest arguments over North Carolina’s voter ID provision that is set to go into effect in 2016.

Lawyers representing state lawmakers contend the legal challenge should be dismissed. They say the issue is moot now, because legislators changed the law earlier this year to make it possible for some people to vote without a photo identification card.

The NAACP and others have contended that requiring IDs to vote has a disproportionate negative impact on minority voters, who don’t always have access to birth certificates and other documents needed for the identification cards. Though the 2015 amendment to the elections law overhaul now makes it possible to vote without one of the six specified IDs, the challengers have asked for more time to study the practical effect. They also have questioned whether elections officials have had adequate time to educate the public about the most recent version of voting laws.

In the waning days of the 2015 legislative session, the General Assembly approved a bill that moves North Carolina’s primary elections to March 15.

With that change comes a scheduling change for candidates who intend to run for office. Now, instead of filing early next year, the filing deadline is Dec. 1.

Alexander Peters, senior deputy attorney general, included a request in a recent court document for U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, asking the judge to dismiss the ID challenge and to rule on other issues related to the 2013 elections law overhaul.

Schroeder held a bench trial in July and heard arguments for and against other controversial provisions in the 2013 law.

The judge delayed hearing arguments about the voter ID provision because of the legislative amendment on the eve of the trial.

Schroeder heard arguments during the July trial about the:

▪ Decrease in the number of early-voting days.

▪ Elimination of a provision that allowed voters to cast a ballot the same day that they registered to vote – and to vote outside their assigned precinct.

▪ End to a program that pre-registered 16- and 17-year olds.

The judge has yet to issue a ruling on those challenges.

After the trial, the challengers and attorneys for the state told the judge they would work outside the courtroom to try to come up with a consent decree on how to handle the voter ID challenge.

With lawsuits on two tracks – the one in federal court and a different one in state court related only to the ID rule – the attorneys had not had time before the trial to talk among themselves about the directions they planned to take after the legislative amendment shortly before the federal trial.

The amendment gives voters without an approved ID the option of using a provisional ballot.

In state court, where challengers contend the ID requirement is a violation of the N.C. Constitution, Judge Mike Morgan put the voter ID challenge on hold until after the March primary.

In federal court, the challengers contend requiring voters to present IDs has a discriminatory impact on African-American, Hispanic and young voters.

“The amended law does not address the racial disparities for possession rates of acceptable photo IDs, the discriminatory treatment of African-American voters in the process of voting and obtaining an ID, and the burden North Carolina voters will face at the polls with the imposition of a photo ID requirement,” the challengers said in the state court document filed several months ago.

In a document filed in federal court, attorneys for the challengers said they had provided the defendants with “a written, detailed proposal that could form the basis of discussions to resolve the voter photo ID claims.” They added that because the state’s motion to dismiss the challenge was pending, the defendants had “declined to discuss settlement further.”

It was unclear Thursday whether Schroeder would issue a ruling at the Friday hearing in Winston-Salem.

The hearing was scheduled as a status report.