A Wake County judge plans to take two to three weeks to decide whether a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter ID law should be dismissed or proceed to trial this summer. Mike Morgan, a Wake County Superior Court judge, briefed attorneys Friday after listening to several hours of arguments for and against the dismissal request. The case is rooted in an overhaul of North Carolina election law that was adopted by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2013. Under the sweeping changes, which are also being challenged in federal court, voters going to the polls in 2016 will have to show one of seven forms of photo identification to cast a ballot. The League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Institute and five female voters argue that lawmakers overstepped the bounds of the state Constitution when they added the ID requirement. Attorneys for the state lawmakers countered that registered voters without one of the seven acceptable IDs are not shut out completely from voting.
Alec Peters, a special deputy attorney general in the N.C. Attorney General’s office, said the law still allows voters to cast a mail-in absentee ballot without an ID. “As long as someone has the ability to vote by ballot, their right to vote has not been affected, infringed on,” Peters said. “They may not be able to go to the polls to vote, but they will not be denied the right to vote.”
Press Millen, an attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Raleigh, along with lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, countered that the first article of the state Constitution governs voter qualifications. That article was adopted in 1868 when North Carolina was under military rule in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. The qualifications set out there are minimal, Millen said. They are that a person be at least 18, a North Carolina resident and not a felon, unless rights of citizenship have been restored.
The North Carolina Constitution, Millen said, explicitly allows the General Assembly to “enact general laws governing the registration of voters,” and over the past 147 years pages and pages of laws related to that topic have been added to the General Statutes.