A federal judge on Friday refused a request from state lawmakers to dismiss a challenge to the North Carolina voter ID law.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder set the issue for a trial, tentatively in January.
Attorneys for state lawmakers argued that a change made this year to the ID provision of election law made the 2013 legal challenge moot. Though the law initially restricted voting to people who had one of six specified photo identification cards, the General Assembly added a provision on the eve of the federal trial this summer that made it possible to cast a provisional ballot without an ID.
The law is set to go into effect next year.
Advocates of the ID law say it is necessary to prevent voter fraud, though few cases of fraud have been prosecuted.
The NAACP and others have contended that requiring IDs to vote has a disproportionately 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 now makes it possible to vote without one of the specified IDs, some of 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.
Irv Joyner, a Durham attorney representing the challengers, said he was pleased that Schroeder found the claims sufficient to proceed to trial.
“We remain concerned about the abbreviated timetable ... a timetable that exists solely because of the trickery of the North Carolina General Assembly who waited until the dawn of trial to slightly amend its discriminatory photo ID requirement,” Joyner said in a statement. “Even with the changes, and after nearly two years of telling voters they would need the narrowly prescribed photo ID to vote, North Carolina officials have yet to articulate their strategy for educating the public, poll workers and other state officials on what is needed to vote. As a result, the people of North Carolina are left in legislative-limbo by not knowing the rules for voting as well as the options available ahead of a March 2016 primary and the general election.”
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 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.
Among the provisions being challenged:
▪ The decrease in the number of early-voting days.
▪ The 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.
▪ The end of a program that pre-registered 16- and 17-year-olds.
The judge has yet to issue a ruling on those challenges.
While the ruling is pending, eligible individuals may register and vote during the one-stop early-voting period. The “same-day registration” process is allowed because of a U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that blocks some of the 2013 changes until the lawsuit has been decided.
Additionally, voters who appear on Election Day in the correct county but in the improper precinct may cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted for all contests in which the voter was eligible to participate.
Denise Lieberman, a senior attorney at the Advancement Project, an organization challenging key provisions of the 2013 election law overhaul, and others who filed the lawsuit, say that elections should be free, fair and accessible to all.
“As long as photo ID is on the books, it will have a chilling and discriminatory impact on African-Americans and Latinos,” Lieberman said.