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Federal court case challenging North Carolina's photo ID law begins

WASHINGTON, D.C – Trial begins Monday in a federal case that will determine whether North Carolina's law requiring voters to show photo ID violates the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

The state legislature passed Senate Bill 824 on December 19, 2018, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper's (D) veto, which requires people voting in person or by mail to present an approved photo ID. The list of acceptable IDs includes a driver's license, a passport, a voter ID card issued by a county election authority, a tribal ID card, a college or university student ID card, and a military ID card.

A Super Tuesday voter walks past a sign requiring photo ID at a polling station on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Mount Holly, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections a day later, arguing that the legislation disproportionately burdens black and Latino residents of the state in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th. Amendment violates the US Constitution.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting laws, practices, or maps that restrict or revoke a person's right to vote based on race. This section is often used to challenge laws that have discriminatory effects.

According to the NAACP's legal brief filed April 16, black voters are twice as likely as white voters to not have a valid ID, and Latino voters are at least 50% more likely to not have an ID .

In the filing, the NAACP alleges that there are numerous reasons why it is more difficult for minority voters to obtain ID, including documentation requirements, fees, trips to motor vehicle departments or county election offices, and limited business hours or the availability of their offices.

“These burdens are disproportionately borne by minority voters, who also lack the resources to address them,” the NAACP’s filing said.

The NAACP also argued that “the passage of SB 824 was just one in a series of racially discriminatory attacks on voting by the NAACP.” [state] legislative session in the last decade.”

The State Board of Elections argues in an April 15 negotiating brief that a new voter ID law is not “fatally infected by the unconstitutional discrimination of a previous voter ID law that was repealed.”

The board also added that the law allows people to cast their vote without ID by filling out a “photo ID exception form” and specifying the reason why they need to cast provisional ballots (lack of transportation, lack of birth certificate, and others Documents). etc). Voters may also cast a provisional ballot and later return to the county board with acceptable identification before the day before voting.

The committee argues that because of these provisions, “the burdens the law imposes on voters without proof of identification are minimal at best.”

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina provisionally blocked the law on December 31, 2019, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision in December 2020.

As part of this litigation, Republican lawmakers also tried several times to intervene in the case.

One of the points Republican lawmakers made in their April 15 trial report is that SB 824 received bipartisan support in the Legislature and one of the bill's main sponsors was State Senator Joel Ford, an African-American Democrat who served in the Senate until 2019 of the state.

A 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed lawmakers to join state election officials' lawsuit, allowing them to be included in next week's trial.

However, Monday's trial will not be the first time this law has been tested in court.

In December 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court blocked the law in a state-level lawsuit filed by a group of voters represented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

After the court shifted to a Republican majority following the 2022 midterm elections, the justices reheard the case and reversed the decision in April 2023.

After the Supreme Court's about-face, the law's impact was evident in the state's March 4 primary election. Out of 1.8 million voters, 477 ballots were not counted, representing one in every 3,774 voters, state election officials said in the lawsuit.

The outcome of next week's trial could determine whether voters in North Carolina will be required to show photo ID to vote in the upcoming 2024 election.

Find out more about the case here.

Read SB 824 here.

Anna Harden

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