State Politics

NAACP seeks to block 2016 voter ID requirement

Estes Hills precinct election official Watson Bowes listens as fellow official Calyx Harris, left, helps a voter with her voter ID situation after the voter came to the wrong precinct to vote Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Tuesday was Orange County municipal elections day also with voting for school board offices and five bond referendums. Voter turnout among the approximately 2,400 registered voters in Chapel Hill's Country Club percent was the second highest in the Chapel Hill area with 224 early or absentee voters, and 162 voting Tuesday in the first four hours of the day since 630am opening.
Estes Hills precinct election official Watson Bowes listens as fellow official Calyx Harris, left, helps a voter with her voter ID situation after the voter came to the wrong precinct to vote Tuesday, November 3, 2015. Tuesday was Orange County municipal elections day also with voting for school board offices and five bond referendums. Voter turnout among the approximately 2,400 registered voters in Chapel Hill's Country Club percent was the second highest in the Chapel Hill area with 224 early or absentee voters, and 162 voting Tuesday in the first four hours of the day since 630am opening. hlynch@newsobserver.com

The NAACP and others challenging changes to North Carolina’s election law overhaul in 2013 are seeking to block the photo ID requirement for the March primaries.

The challengers filed a request in federal court on Tuesday seeking a preliminary injunction that would keep the current law in place until their legal challenge can be fully heard.

Attorneys for the state lawmakers standing behind the ID requirement have voiced opposition to the NAACP request. In court documents filed earlier this month, attorneys for the state said they think the legal challenge can be heard and decided before the March primaries.

When lawmakers added the requirement that voters have photo IDs by 2016 to vote, they contended that the measure was necessary to prevent voter fraud.

Few voter fraud cases have been brought and prosecuted in North Carolina and elsewhere in the United States.

Challengers contend the requirement is meant to “suppress” the minority and young vote. They argue that North Carolina’s list of acceptable IDs, which excludes college and university student ID cards, is the most restrictive in the country.

In August, a federal court struck down a Texas law requiring voters to show authorized identification before casting ballots, saying the measure violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act through its “discriminatory effects.”

No voter will be turned away from the polls because they lack acceptable photo ID.

Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections

North Carolina lawmakers amended the state requirement shortly before that ruling and added a provision that gives voters who can show they were unable to obtain an ID a chance to cast a provisional ballot.

Challengers have described that change as less restrictive, but still one that might discourage voting among people who do not have IDs and don’t realize they can still cast a ballot.

Because the lawmakers amended the ID requirement on the eve of a federal trial in July, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder decided to take that topic up later this year or early in 2016.

In early November, the state Board of Elections released a public service announcement outlining details of the voter ID requirement set to begin in 2016.

The announcement states that beginning in 2016, voters will be asked to show acceptable photo ID at the polls, but are not required for mail-in absentee ballots.

Exceptions are available for voters who cannot obtain photo ID, elections officials state.

“No voter will be turned away from the polls because they lack acceptable photo ID,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections.

But challengers contend the message remains a chilling one.

North Carolina’s voter ID requirement remains an undue and unlawful burden on voters of color.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

“North Carolina’s voter ID requirement remains an undue and unlawful burden on voters of color,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “The legislature’s desperate attempt to mask the discrimination embedded in this law by altering – yet not removing – the photo identification requirement shows they knew it would not withstand the weight of constitutional review. Even with these alterations, North Carolina officials have yet to satisfactorily educate the public, poll workers and other state officials on the provisions of the law with its amendments. A preliminary injunction would ensure democracy is not disrupted for eligible voters of color.”

Additionally, the NAACP and others are challenging 2013 election law changes that:

▪ Shortened the early voting period by seven days.

▪ Banned voters from casting provisional ballots if they showed up at the wrong polling site.

▪ Prohibited casting a ballot on the same day someone registered to vote.

Schroeder heard legal arguments in July for and against those changes to the elections law, but has yet to issue a ruling.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1

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