Civil rights groups appealed a federal judge’s ruling in North Carolina upholding what they call a “monster voter suppression law,” while election experts said Tuesday that the closely watched case will have legal ramifications for voting across the country this presidential election year. North Carolina, a battleground state, is considered an epicenter for the nationwide battle over voting rights because its controversial 2013 election law is one of the strictest in the nation. “If North Carolina can get away with this kind of rollback, I suspect we will see other rollbacks in other states,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California at Irvine and the author of “The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown.” After two trials, the voting law was upheld late Monday by federal judge Thomas D. Schroeder of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. His decision was praised by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), who said in a statement that “this ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common-sense, it’s constitutional.”
“Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and thankfully a federal court has ensured our citizens will have the same protection for their basic right to vote,” McCrory said. But the North Carolina law goes further than requiring a photo ID to vote. It also reduces the number of days of early voting, prohibits people from registering and voting on the same day, stops ballots cast in the wrong precinct from being counted and ends the practice of preregistering teenagers before they turn 18. Although other states have enacted one of these restrictions, such as a voter ID requirement, the North Carolina law is the broadest law that encompasses all the changes.
“This is not a photo ID bill,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, which sued the state. “The court ruled on the most sweeping, retrogressive voter suppression bill that we have seen since the 19th century and since Jim Crow and the worst in the nation since the Shelby decision.”
The Shelby County v. Holder decision by a divided court effectively nullified the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required all or portions of 15 states, because of their history of discrimination, to get the approval of the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes in voting laws. North Carolina was one of those states. Within weeks of the Supreme Court’s decision, North Carolina passed its omnibus election bill, with one legislator exclaiming that the General Assembly was no longer restrained by the “legal headache” of the Voting Rights Act.