State Politics

McCrory asks Supreme Court to restore voter ID law

Gov. Pat McCrory answers a question from Tim Boyum during a question and answer session at the N.C. Chamber Annual Government Affairs Conference at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Gov. Pat McCrory answers a question from Tim Boyum during a question and answer session at the N.C. Chamber Annual Government Affairs Conference at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday, May 4, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate North Carolina’s voter ID law for the November election.

The law, which requires voters to bring a photo ID to the polls, was thrown out by a federal appeals court ruling. Late Monday, McCrory announced that he has sent a formal request to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to stay the ruling while state leaders appeal the decision.

“Allowing the 4th Circuit’s ruling to stand creates confusion among voters and poll workers and it disregards our successful rollout of Voter ID in the 2016 primary elections,” the Republican governor said in a news release. “The 4th Circuit’s ruling is just plain wrong and we cannot allow it to stand. We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold our state’s law and reverse the 4th Circuit.”

The McCrory administration hasn’t yet petitioned the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the ruling, but it said it will submit one soon.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the 2013 voter ID law was passed with “discriminatory intent” and would “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The judges rejected lawmakers’ claims that the law was designed to combat voter fraud.

The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo ID from voters in future elections, including November’s general election. It restores an extra week of early voting, reinstates preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect.

McCrory’s request doesn’t ask for the entire law to be restored for this year’s election, even though his attorneys say they’ll defend all its provisions if the Supreme Court hears an appeal.

Instead, the filing asks Roberts to bring back the photo ID requirement and stop the Court of Appeals’ mandate that counties offer 17 days of early voting instead of the 10-day period that counties had originally planned for. The request also seeks to prevent 16-year-olds from pre-registering to vote.

If Roberts grants the request, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting would still be available for this year’s election as mandated by the Court of Appeals ruling.

Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, which opposes the voter ID law, said he’s hopeful that Roberts will reject the request. He said he’s surprised that McCrory waited weeks to ask for a stay.

“Hopefully the Supreme Court will say no and we can have some closure for what the rules of the game are for 2016,” Hall said. “The decision of the 4th Circuit should stand, and they can have a hearing on the merits (of an appeal) after the election.”

The photo ID requirement was in effect for the state’s March and June primaries this year, although a 2014 tweak to the law allowed voters without ID to vote after filling out a “reasonable impediment” form explaining why they couldn’t meet the requirement.

The 32-page request filed by the McCrory administration argues that the 4th Circuit ruling “renders every voter ID law in the country vulnerable to invalidation as intentionally discriminatory.”

The filing also claims that the last-minute change to election law will result in “irreparable harm” to the state.

“Not only do such eleventh-hour alterations put state and local election officials in an exceedingly difficult position, but court orders affecting elections, especially conflicting orders, can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls,” McCrory’s attorneys wrote in the filing.

State and county election officials are already adjusting their plans to comply with the 4th Circuit ruling. Several county election boards have adopted new schedules for early voting; the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections held a meeting Monday to make changes.

The State Board of Elections has shelved advertising campaigns that had been designed to air on TV, radio and other media to educate voters about the voter ID law’s requirements.

Hall said he thinks it’s too late to bring the voter ID law back because the state canceled training sessions for poll workers on the requirements.

“The reality is that they should have been in intensive training about the ID and the exemptions between the primary and the general election, and that has stopped,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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