Voter identification legislation in North Carolina will pick up steam again now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, a key General Assembly leader said Tuesday. A bill requiring voters to present one of several forms of state-issued photo ID starting in 2016 cleared the House two months ago, but it’s been sitting since in the Senate Rules Committee to wait for a ruling by the justices in an Alabama case, according to Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the committee chairman. He said a bill will now be rolled out in the Senate next week. The ruling essentially means a voter ID or other election legislation approved in this year’s session probably won’t have to receive advance approval by U.S. Justice Department attorneys or a federal court before such measures can be carried out. “I guess we’re safe in saying this decision was what we were expecting,” Apodaca said in an interview.
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled a key provision of the federal law cannot be enforced unless Congress changes rules on which areas of the country still need to be monitored.
The “preclearance” requirement in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act covered many areas of the South, including 40 North Carolina counties, mostly in the east. That has required laws approved by the General Assembly for both statewide elections and local elections in those counties, as well as redistricting maps, to receive a formal OK. The requirement was designed to ensure that minority voters in those areas aren’t worse off compared to previous law.
Apodaca said the Senate didn’t want the legal headaches of having to go through preclearance if it wasn’t necessary and having to determine which portions of the proposal would be subject to federal scrutiny. “So now we can go with the full bill,” he added. Apodaca also said now with Tuesday’s rulings he anticipated another omnibus election law bill to surface next week.
Republican lawmakers and allies say a clear majority of citizens want voter ID because it will build confidence in the election system. Democratic legislators and civil rights advocates have criticized any photo ID bill as another barrier to free voting that attempts to remediate a voter fraud problem that doesn’t exist.
Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday’s ruling “doesn’t eliminate North Carolina’s obligation to keep elections open and accessible.”
“Now that this important tool used to fight election law discrimination is gone, the legislature must take even more care to resist new laws that make it harder for people to vote,” he said. Republicans have suggested other changes this year, such as reducing the 2 1/2-week early voting period or making judicial elections officially partisan races again.