Members of a federal appeals court expressed skepticism Tuesday that North Carolina’s 2013 major rewrite to voting laws, requiring photo identification to cast in-person ballots, doesn’t discriminate against minorities. The three-judge panel met Tuesday to hear arguments over whether to overturn an April trial court ruling upholding the law. Judge Henry F. Floyd questioned the timing of the changes — done after Republicans took control of state government for the first time in a century and after the U.S. Supreme Court undid key provisions of the Voting Rights Act — and whether they weren’t done to suppress minority votes for political gain. “It looks pretty bad to me,” Floyd said. But the law’s authors said they were aiming to prevent voter fraud and increase public confidence in elections. “It was not a nefarious thing,” said Thomas A. Farr, an attorney representing the state.
The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued the state, saying the restrictions violated the remaining provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals fast-tracked the review in an expected presidential battleground state, with competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate.
Voters must now show one of six qualifying IDs, although those with “reasonable impediments” can fill out a form and cast a provisional ballot. The voter ID mandate began with this year’s March primary.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. asked pointed questions about why public assistance IDs, used disproportionally by minorities, were not acceptable in the final version of the law. “Why did they take it out?” asked Wynn, a former North Carolina state appeals judge.