North Carolina's strict new photo-ID voting law, which has been described as both unconstitutional and "a fundamental attack on our democracy," goes on trial in a federal courthouse Monday.
Civil rights leaders argue that the new rule, which requires voters to use one of six specified IDs when they cast ballots, will disenfranchise minority voters, who are less likely to have one of the required forms of identification.
In fact, Raleigh's News & Observer reports,
A January 2013 analysis by the State Board of Elections found that 31.2 percent of registered voters who didn’t have a photo ID were black, even though blacks make up 20 percent of registered voters, NAACP attorneys have stated in court documents. A 2015 analysis, according to the NAACP attorneys, found that blacks made up 36 percent of voters who could not be matched to a database from the state Division of Motor Vehicles showing people who had acceptable forms of ID.
The ID requirement is part of a 2013 elections law overhaul shepherded through the GOP-led General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.
The law, which also reduced the number of early voting days, prohibited people from registering and voting on the same day, stopped ballots cast in the wrong precinct from being counted, and ended the practice of preregistering teenagers before they turned 18, was passed just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court essentially nullified the Voting Rights Act, ruling that North Carolina and other states with a history of discrimination no longer needed federal approval for voting law changes affecting minorities.
Last July, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder—who will also hear Monday's case—held a three-week trial on most of the new voting law. Schroeder, who is deciding the case without a jury, has not yet ruled.
As the Washington Post explains, "on the eve of that trial, the North Carolina legislature added an amendment modifying the photo-ID requirement in the law, so that section was not part of the case. It is the photo-ID requirement that will go on trial Monday."
According to the Guardian:
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The NAACP will argue in court on Monday that the amendment does not reduce the unconstitutional burden placed on black voters by the photo-ID law. The “reasonable impediment” clause sets voters lacking a photo-ID card, who are disproportionately African American and Latino, on a separate track in which they will have to fill out a whole new set of forms to which other voters are not subjected.
Meanwhile, those who cast their ballots through absentee or postal votes – who are disproportionately white – will not have to produce any photo identification or fill out any “reasonable impediment” forms. State officials have tried to justify the changes on grounds of ensuring the integrity of voter rolls, though no evidence that anyone has ever fraudulently voted in North Carolina has been produced.
The News & Observer notes that "[m]any speculate that the U.S. Supreme Court will be the ultimate arbiter, and North Carolina is among the states being watched as one that could present that case to the country's highest court."
Indeed, David Graham wrote for The Atlantic last summer:
The plaintiffs may face a tough battle with Schroeder, a conservative George W. Bush appointee who will decide the case, with no jury involved. They initially requested a preliminary injunction against the new laws prior to the 2014 election. Schroeder rejected the request, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his decision. Then the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court, and while no reason was given, it’s speculated that the justices were wary of upending the election process so close to voting day. Schroeder, however, is unlikely to have the final word. Regardless of the outcome, the loser will likely appeal to the circuit court, and the Supreme Court may eventually decide to consider the case.
Meanwhile, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and political advocacy group Democracy NC are countering what they see as voter suppression through a joint campaign to empower, educate, and protect voters.
"We want people to get out and vote, we want them to look at the issues, we want them to understand that voting has consequences and that we’re building an infrastructure not just for 2016 but beyond as well," Barber said earlier this month at the campaign launch in Asheville. "We have to understand that the fear-mongering, racist rhetoric that we’ve seen is an affront to our democracy and to our deepest moral values. We must take our moral consciousness into the streets and into the ballot box."
In addition, a mass Moral March on Raleigh is scheduled for February 13. Primary elections in the state are set for March 15.
"Our legislators are systematically seeking to abridge and suppress our vote and disrespect the rivers of blood which made our vote possible," reads the call-to-action. In turn, organizers state, "we will mobilize like never before and cast ballots like never before."