Lawyers and advocates were back in a courtroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Monday, for a second challenge to the state’s strict new voting laws. A group of plaintiffs, led by the NAACP and the Department of Justice, is seeking to overturn a new rule, which is set to take effect in March’s primaries, requiring voters to present a photo ID before voting. The voter-ID law was one of several major changes made by Republicans who control the Old North State’s government, in a 2013 law passed shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a clause in the Voting Rights Act that required some states to seek approval of changes to voting laws from the Justice Department. In addition to requiring a photo ID to vote, the new rules reduced early voting; ended same-day voter registration; banned the practice of casting ballots out of precinct; and ended pre-registration for teens. Proponents said the laws were essential to guarantee the integrity of the state’s elections. A group of plaintiffs sued the state, alleging that the changes would suppress minority votes and that they represented the return of Jim Crow to the South. In July, federal district-court Judge Thomas Schroeder heard a challenge to some of those provisions, but not to the voter-ID law.
The voter-ID law is one of the strictest in the nation, narrowly limiting the number of acceptable forms of identification, but it is slightly looser than it was to begin with. In June 2015, with the lawsuit drawing near, the general assembly suddenly voted to slightly loosen the restrictions, allowing residents to file affidavits swearing they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting one of the approved forms of ID. They would also have to present alternate forms of identification. As a result of the change, the voter-ID law, which was not scheduled to go into effect until this year, was not considered during the summer 2015 trial.
During a conference call to discuss the changes last week, plaintiffs insisted that the conditions for votes being counted were at once too vague, leaving too much discretion to local elections officials, and too restrictive.
“The right to vote is supposed to be constitutional, not confusing,” said the Reverend William Barber, who is president of the state NAACP and also the leader of the“Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh. “North Carolina’s restrictive photo-ID law remains an immoral and unconstitutional burden on voters that creates two unequal tiers of voters. We are prepared to challenge this modern form of Jim Crow in the courts even as we continue our grassroots work.” In defense of the state, lawyers argue that the plaintiffs have presented “no evidence that any single voter will be unable to vote under the photo ID law.”