For Immediate Release
Elected and Appointed Officials Highlight Discriminatory Intent and Impact of Photo ID Law
Plaintiffs Rest Their Case in Historic Legal Challenge to North Carolina’s Voter Suppression Law in Federal Courtbrent budowski
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - In the fourth day of a federal trial challenging the photo ID requirement of North Carolina’s voter suppression law, H.B. 589, witnesses for the plaintiffs illuminated the irregular process state legislators used to pass an amendment to the law, H.B. 836. They also questioned the state’s top elections official on the state’s implementation of the law. Under H.B. 836, voters cast a provisional ballot if they sign a declaration – under penalty of perjury – asserting they have a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a photo ID. The amendment, passed on the eve of trial last summer challenging H.B. 589, signaled legislators knew the photo ID provision could not withstand legal review. Since H.B. 836 passed, the state has done little to educate voters on the details of the modified ID requirement or effectively remedy the chilling effects the requirement will have on voting access for people of color.
Witnesses decried the state’s suggestion non-profits and local officials educate North Carolinians about a state-ordered mandate that the legislature itself conceived and passed without public comment. Witnesses foreshadowed the difficulty some North Carolinians – most notably persons with limited English and low literacy – will face understanding and accessing the impediment declaration, increasing the probability voters will have trouble utilizing the option. For example, NC NAACP Plaintiff Maria Palmer, a councilmember in Chapel Hill, NC, and the state’s only Latina elected official testified that no information on the reasonable impediment process, nor the reasonable impediment declaration form, was available in Spanish.
“It’s completely unreasonable the state is trying to make people like me – people who are struggling to run for office and represent our constituents – translate into Spanish [State Board of Elections] materials and educate the whole state on a process they know is going to present a barrier,” Palmer, said. Her comments were offered upon suggestion from state’s attorneys that she could undertake translating the materials and forms for her constituents.
Palmer went on to describe how the Latino community will be burdened and intimidated by the law’s reasonable impediment provisions, concluding they would be more likely to stay home than be singled out and questioned regarding their impediment. She also described assisting numerous Latinos in obtaining photo ID after being turned away because of non-matching documents. Palmer also has personal experience to this effect. When H.B. 589 passed, the name on Palmer’s driver’s license did not match the name on her Social Security card, or her voter registration card, because of naming conventions common in Latin American culture.
Passed on June 18, 2015, the day after the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, one lawmaker expressed surprise at the narrow window Democratic legislators were given to analyze the amendment before it appeared on the floor for a vote.
“It was an unusual way to proceed on a very substantive issue,” said former State Representative Rick Glazier. “We had about an hour and 15 minutes to look at the bill.”
Rep. Glazier went on to describe an email sent by State Representative Chuck McGrady that spoke to the legislator’s motivation for amending the photo ID measure, which read: “In the face of clear evidence that people were being denied IDs, the legislature moved to provide for provisional ballots in some instances…Activists have been quick to castigate Republicans in the General Assembly, but we obviously didn’t want to have this whole discussion on the floor of the Senate or House since then it would become part of the ongoing lawsuits.”
Plaintiffs also put the head of the State Board of Elections, Kim Strach, on the stand to answer to the state’s limited education, training and interpretation of the photo ID law. Plaintiffs then rested their case, and the court heard from state’s witnesses including the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, who described the antiquated processes and erroneous training for DMV examiners charged with providing people ID for voting.
The legal challenge to H.B. 589’s photo ID requirement and several other provisions is brought by The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and individual plaintiffs represented by Advancement Project, Kirkland & Ellis, LLP and attorneys Adam Stein and Irving Joyner. Among other challenged provisions are 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 the same federal court in July 2015. A ruling remains pending.
Trial resumes at 9:00 AM tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 29 in Winston-Salem, N.C. Closing statements are tentatively projected for the afternoon, though trial may extend to next week.
Advancement Project is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.