The North Carolina legislature “intentionally passed a law that would discriminate against African Americans and Latinos”, an attorney told a federal judge on Monday in a case that could have broad implications for the 2016 election. The federal court in Winston Salem heard closing arguments in a trial over the state’s newly implemented voter identification law. The rule, which went into effect on 1 January, requires citizens to show state-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. The challenge to the law, led by the state chapters of the NAACP and League of Women Voters as well as the US Department of Justice, argued that the requirements were racially discriminatory to black and Latino citizens who are less likely to have photo ID or the means to acquire it. North Carolina is just one of 15 states where restrictive new voting laws will go into effect for the 2016 election and are forecast to disproportionately disenfranchise black and Latino Americans. The proceedings were the latest in the convoluted legal battle that has been unfolding in North Carolina since the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed HB 589 in July 2013. As well as mandating voter ID, the law significantly shortened the window for early voting, prevented citizens from voting outside their district, ended the preregistration of 17-year-olds, and stopped same-day registration, where voters register on the same day they cast a ballot.
“We believe that the legislature intentionally passed a law that would discriminate against African Americans and Latinos, and potentially one of the reasons is the rising electorate and more participation by people of color,” said Donita Judge, a senior attorney for the Advancement Project, the non-profit advocacy organization that is representing the NAACP in the suit.
North Carolina is one of the states to pass tough voter registration rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v Holder. The ruling invalidated the section of the 1965 voting rights act that required certain states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to get federal preclearance before making changes to their election laws. Judge said under the old preclearance rules HB589 would “not have passed muster”, which explains its timing, passed less a month after the Shelby decision.
“Of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, seven of them have new laws in place,” said Jonathan Brater, who serves as counsel for the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan voting right organization.