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Federal Lawsuit Challenging Controversial Voter ID Law In North Carolina Heads To Trial

Federal Lawsuit Challenging Controversial Voter ID Law In North Carolina Heads To Trial
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On Monday, five years later, the trial challenging the voter identification law in North Carolina, finally started.

This legal battle began when voters in North Carolina approved a new amendment to the constitution that would “require voter ID and the Republican-led legislature passed a bill to implement the requirement.”

Then, the North Carolina NAACP along with several other local chapters filed a lawsuit, “saying the photo requirement and two other voting-related provisions violate the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act in part because lawmakers enacted them with discriminatory intent.”

While on its face requiring a photo ID to vote might not seem insidious, there is a long history of voter identification laws being used to suppress the minority vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the evidence proves “that strict voter ID laws disproportionately impact voters of color.”

“Using county-level turnout data around the country, researchers demonstrated that the racial turnout gap grew when states enacted strict voter ID laws,” the nonprofit public policy institute found. Furthermore, “[r]esearchers have also looked specifically at the turnout of individuals in North Carolina without proper identification, and they found that the enactment of the law reduced turnout. The turnout effects continued even after the strict voter ID law was repealed.”

So, why has it taken so long for this issue to make it to the courtroom? First, the NAACP tried to get a preliminary injunction to stop the law from going into effect. In 2019, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, an appointee of President Barack Obama, “granted the injunction. The case was then delayed by arguments about whether House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger could intervene in the case as defendants. The NAACP’s lawsuit had originally only named Gov. Roy Cooper and the State Board of Elections as defendants.”

This ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court, which allowed Moore and Berger to become parties to the case. But at the same time, there was a separate case around voter ID also going on at the state level. In 2022, the then-majority Democrat North Carolina Supreme Court overturned “the state’s voter ID requirement.” But when the Republicans gained control in April 2023, they immediately reversed the earlier
“decision, and ruled that voter ID could go into effect.”

March primaries were held under the new law, and statewide data from the election, “showed that less than 500 provisional ballots were ultimately not counted in the primary because of ID-related issues.”

The federal case was re-ignited following this decision. One of the plaintiff’s attorneys expects the trial to take place over the next 10 days.

Biggs, the same judge who previously granted the injunction to block the law from taking effect, is presiding over the case. But “Biggs already has signaled that she won’t immediately rule from the bench.” If the ruling is in favor of the NAACP, this could block the photo ID requirement in the fall for the November election. In addition to the president, voters will also be electing the governor along with other key state seats, and experts anticipate a threefold increase in voter turnout as compared to the primary. In addition, as the ninth-largest state, many consider North Carolina to be a “presidential battleground.”

Currently, “[t]hirty-six states have laws requesting or requiring identification at the polls, 21 of which seek photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,” Associated Press reports.

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