A federal judge will now have to decide whether North Carolina’s new voting law is so onerous on black voters that it needs to be blocked before the upcoming November elections. That’s the central question after a four-day hearing in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem ended Thursday afternoon. National and local voting-rights activists are closely watching the case. U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said in court that he would issue a written decision at a later date, noting it would be “sooner rather than later,” given the urgency of the matter. State attorneys argued Thursday that the law was not discriminatory and that it gave everyone an equal opportunity to vote. Opponents disagree. The hearing featured about three days of testimony from state officials, Democratic legislators, experts and blacks voters who said they would be burdened by voting changes that Republicans legislators passed in 2013. The law, known as the Voting Information Verification Act and referred to in the hearing as House Bill 589, would reduce early voting from 17 days to 10, eliminate same-day voter registration, prohibit county elections officials from counting ballots cast by voters in the correct county but wrong precinct and get rid of pre-registration by 16- and 17-year-olds.
The law also would increase the number of poll observers assigned by each political party, allow a registered voter to challenge another voter in the same county and require voters to show a photo ID by 2016.
Soon after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the legislation into law on Aug. 12, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice, the state NAACP, the League of Women Voters and a number of churches and individuals filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court of the Middle District of North Carolina. The suits alleged the law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as the 14th, 15th and 26th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
But the question this week in U.S. District Court had to do with whether to grant a preliminary injunction against many of the provisions. Opponents argued that black voters in particular would be harmed if the provisions of the law remained in effect for the Nov. 4 general election, which features the hotly contested U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House and one of the main architects of the new law.