State Politics

NC voter ID case will go to trial in state court this fall

Detail photo of information placards on the welcoming voters’ table in the lobby of the Paul Green Theater on the UNC-CH campus.
Detail photo of information placards on the welcoming voters’ table in the lobby of the Paul Green Theater on the UNC-CH campus.

The question of whether North Carolina’s voter ID requirement violates the state Constitution will go to trial in late September, adding more uncertainty to the election process in a presidential year that has left many voters confused about schedules and their districts.

Wake County Judge Mike Morgan on Monday signed an order rejecting a request by lawmakers to set the case in front of a three-judge panel or dismiss it altogether.

The trial is set to start Sept. 26. Anita Earls, director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a law firm representing challengers of the state’s 2013 voter ID law, said she expected the trial to last about a week.

Before Morgan set the schedule, Phil Strach, a Raleigh lawyer representing the legislators and the husband of the state elections director, argued that it would be better to wait until after November.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013, but it has been delayed in part because of proceedings in federal court over similar issues. The arguments, though, are different in the state case than they are in the federal one, where the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held a hearing but has yet to rule on a lower court decision upholding the ID requirement.

Strach tried to persuade Morgan that setting the trial so close to the election could be problematic for poll workers in November if the challengers prevailed. He argued that machines and training manuals would have to be changed and there would not be enough time to retrain poll workers. “It could be a recipe for confusion,” Strach said.

The question before Morgan will be whether the 2013 election law overhaul is an extension of the voter registration process, as lawmakers have argued. The challengers argue that requiring N.C. voters to show one of six approved IDs or cast a provisional ballot is a “qualification” that goes beyond the bounds of the state Constitution.

Though the attorneys on both sides have been in different camps on the legal issues, they were united in their objection to one announcement on Monday. George Eppsteiner, a lawyer with the Southern Coalitions for Social Justice, told Morgan that he had taken a new job in Washington and would no longer be on the ID case.

“Your honor, we would object to that,” Strach said with a wide smile on his face and kind words for Eppsteiner. “We object, too,” Earls echoed.

“You will be missed,” Morgan said. “But I’m sure you will be able to keep up with this case one way or another.”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1