In Violation of the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution, Each Stage of NC Photo ID Process Burdens African-American, Latino Voters

For Immediate Release

Advancement Project
Contact: 

Victoria Wenger, 603-686-1647, vwenger@advancementproject.org

In Violation of the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution, Each Stage of NC Photo ID Process Burdens African-American, Latino Voters

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - With a filled to capacity courtroom of lawyers, plaintiffs, reporters and other observers, the federal trial challenging North Carolina’s restrictive photo ID requirement adjourned today. Passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 – which nullified the formula for federal preclearance of voting laws in states with a history of discrimination – North Carolina’s massive voter suppression law, H.B. 589, is among the worst in the nation. The photo ID provision challenged this week in federal court was one of numerous tactics implemented to thwart voters of color access the ballot. The legal challenge is brought on behalf of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and individual plaintiffs by Advancement Project, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and attorneys Irving Joyner and Adam Stein.

“In violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina’s photo ID requirement is tainted with intentional racial discrimination,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair, who presented closing arguments to the court today on behalf of the NC NAACP plaintiffs. “The provision, along with the other measures of H.B. 589, specifically suppresses the voting rights of African Americans and Latinos.”

“With surgical precision, North Carolina lawmakers went after each phase of the voting process – targeting how, when and where voters of color have historically cast their ballots,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, the case’s lead plaintiff. “H.B. 589 forces the communities who have faced the greatest barriers – who have shed blood and tears to access the ballot – to overcome hurdles once again to exercise their most fundamental right to vote. Even if you make it through discrimination, does not mean you should have to. In a democracy, all eligible voters should be able to participate.”

“Because of historical and cultural factors, African-American and Latino voters have more difficulty obtaining the underlying documents required to get a photo ID, including the requirement of an exact match between the name on the birth certificate and the name on the Social Security card,” Hair said in her closing arguments. “Addressing these challenges is further dimmed by the DMV itself. The director of the Department of Transportation, Commissioner Kelly Thomas, characterized the DMV as ‘antiquated,’ ‘lethargic,’ ‘draconian,’ ‘outdated’ and ‘cumbersome.’”

“Moreover, due to disparate ID possession rates out of the gate, African Americans and Latinos experience a ‘double whammy’ of first lacking IDs more than Whites and second, facing more difficulty obtaining a qualifying ID,” Hair continued.

“For voters with fewer resources, lower education levels and less access to transportation, overcoming the barriers associated with getting a DMV ID has been impossible for many and has imposed and will continue to impose enormous costs in terms of time and money on those who do overcome it. It took Mrs. Rosanell Eaton, who is 94 years old, an odyssey of 21 days, approximately six hours per day back and forth between the DMV and different Social Security offices to obtain an ID.” 

Since the photo ID requirement was amended under H.B. 836, which created the “reasonable impediment” provision, the state has done little to educate voters on the details of the revised requirement or effectively remedy the chilling effects it will have on voters’ access to the ballot.

“The photo ID requirement persists even though it threatens to deter, confuse and disenfranchise voters; even though it will cost millions of dollars at the expense of taxpayers; and even though it sets out to solve a problem that simply never existed,” said Michael Glick, an attorney for Kirkland & Ellis LLP. “One has to ask why.”

While proponents of North Carolina’s photo ID provision have attempted to site prevention of voter fraud as a plausible rationale for imposing the requirement, there remains zero statistical evidence that in-person voter impersonation was ever a problem in North Carolina – or anywhere nationally.

“Photo ID was not necessary to add confidence to the process of voting,” said Rev. Barber. “It did add confidence to one thing – African Americans and Latinos have more confidence this law was put in place to target them.”

If North Carolina’s photo ID requirement remains intact, African Americans and Latinos will have less opportunity than White voters to participate in the political process as early as North Carolina’s March primary elections. Plaintiffs claim this discrimination – imposed without any valid, countervailing state interest – serves as a clear violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. On these grounds, plaintiffs requested that the court permanently enjoin the photo ID requirement and retain jurisdiction over the state, ordering future voting changes in the state be pre-cleared under section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act.

Aside from photo ID, other contested provisions of H.B. 589 include the reduction of a week of early voting, the elimination of same-day registration, a restriction on the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots, and the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. A three-week trial on these provisions was heard in July 2015, and a ruling remains pending.

The NC NAACP will host a media conference call tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 2. For more information or to request an interview with representatives of the plaintiffs, please contact Jennifer Farmer at 202.487.0967 or Victoria Wenger at 603-686-1647 or vwenger@advancementproject.org.

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