North Carolina's restrictive voter ID law was designed to "intentionally" discriminate against the state's black and Latino voters, attorneys argued in a packed Winston-Salem courtroom on Monday.
The charge was leveled during closing arguments in a trial that has garnered national attention because of its connection to the U.S. Supreme Court's Shelby County v. Holder ruling, which essentially nullified the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
"We believe that the legislature intentionally passed a law that would discriminate against African Americans and Latinos, and potentially one of the reasons is the rising electorate and more participation by people of color," said Donita Judge, a senior attorney for the Advancement Project, which is representing the NC NAACP in the suit.
Plaintiffs charge that North Carolina's photo ID requirement, HB589, violates both the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Further, they argue that the state's Republican-led legislature passed the law deliberately to disenfranchise the state's minority voters, capitalizing on the new leniency afforded them by the Shelby ruling, which was decided just one month before HB589 became law.
HB589 required voters to use one of six specified IDs when voting, 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.
"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," Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the NC NAACP, the case’s lead plaintiff, said in a press statement.
As attorney and Advancement Project co-director Penda D. Hair explained during closing arguments, "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."
The law, Barber continued, "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."
As many as 11 percent of eligible voters nationwide do not have government-issued photo ID, according to the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice.
North Carolina is just one of several states that passed restrictive voting laws in the wake of the 2013 Shelby ruling.
Since 2010, 21 states have passed new laws making it harder to vote, ranging from photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions, according to the Brennan Center. And notably, "of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, seven of them have new laws in place," Jonathan Brater, who serves as counsel for the nonpartisan voting rights organization, pointed out.
With North Carolina's March 15th primary just over one month away, rights advocates are scrambling to educate voters about the new restrictions.
But advocates say that the real onus lies with Congress, which they argue should consider such impediments to voter access as proof that the Voting Rights Act should be fully restored.
Pointing to North Carolina's new voting restrictions, the Los Angeles Times editorial board on Tuesday issued a plea to Congress to "undo the damage done to the Voting Rights Act."
"Some argue," the board writes, that restrictions on voting "are motivated not by racism but by the desire of Republicans to dampen turnout among groups that traditionally support Democrats. That's a feeble rationalization for what, in practice, is still racial discrimination. If Republicans are troubled by their lack of support in minority communities, they should reconsider their policies — not block access to the ballot box."