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Tue, 25 Feb 2020

Ruling: No Photo ID for Super Tuesday Voting

Voter ID amendment delayed again for suspicions of racial exclusion
Requirements may not be in place before November general ballots


by: Tristan Dufresne,

WAKE COUNTY — A judicial ruling has made it unlikely that a voter-passed initiative to change North Carolina’s constitution to require photo ID at polling places will take effect before November 3 elections.

The ruling came two weeks before North Carolinians are set to vote in the Super Tuesday presidential primaries on March 3.

A three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals, judges Nathaniel J. Poovey, Vince M. Rozier Jr. and Michael J. O’Foghludha, issued an indefinite injunction on the state’s voter identification amendment on Tuesday, February 18, which nearly ensures that photo ID will not be required by those casting ballots in the November general election.

This injunction “helps prevent voter confusion leading up to the general election this fall,” or at least aims to, according to the judges’ opinion.

The ruling is the latest development in the Holmes v. Moore lawsuit brought by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice against the state’s Republican House and Senate leaders.

The statute in question, which passed the General Assembly in December 2018 as Senate Bill 824, was deemed “likely to disproportionately impact African American voters to their detriment,” according to the ruling of the panel.

A federal district court had already placed a hold on enforcement of the law that spared the upcoming primaries and continued until further review.

The injunction expresses the court’s confidence that a full trial about the law would likely see it struck down or altered.

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently shown the historical background of S.B. 824, the unusual sequence of events leading up to the passage of S.B. 824, the legislative history of this act, and some evidence of disproportionate impact of S.B. 824 all suggest an underlying motive of discriminatory intent in [its] passage,” the decision reads.

“The evidence shows the General Assembly specifically included types of IDs that African Americans disproportionately lack,” it continues, highlighting the exclusion of public-assistance IDs and federal government IDs. “Such a choice speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner.”

There are exceptions to the law and ways to submit provisional ballots without a voter ID, but making ID-lacking voters go the extra step would not be considered “equal treatment in voting,” the judges believed.

Social media was ablaze with opinions following the decision, with many public officials at the state and local levels weighing in.

Michael Whatley, the state’s Republican Party Chairman, posted the following comment on Twitter at 11:19 AM: “When three judges wipe out the votes of more than 2 million NC voters, it is time for a change. Republicans must win the crucial races for NC Supreme Court and Court of Appeals this November.”

The three appellate judges responsible for the decision won their seats in nonpartisan elections. 

In a separate statement released to media later that day, Whatley said the ruling “ignores the fact that more than 30 other states have enacted similar laws which have been upheld by federal courts.

"North Carolinians of every demographic support voter ID and we are very disappointed to see a panel made up of three Democratic judges overturning their votes by judicial fiat," Whatley continued.

The Appeals Court judges are not completely disregarding the will of the 55 percent of North Carolina voters who approved the amendment, however, writing “we recognize that in 2018 a majority of North Carolina voters voted in favor of amending Article VI of the North Carolina Constitution.”

“Although the General Assembly certainly had a duty, and thus a proper justification, to enact some form of a voter-ID law, we do not believe this mandate ‘alone can justify the legislature’s choices’ when it drafted and enacted SB 824 specifically.”

As previously reported by the Sundial , the state’s residents approved a ballot initiative in November 2018 requiring a voter ID law. The details of the legislation was left up to legislators, who created SB 824 at the end of 2018 in eight days and passed it over Governor Roy Cooper’s veto in five days.

The General Assembly passed a similar bill in 2013, which was ultimately overturned by a federal circuit court.

“We're glad that a *second* court has struck down the GOP's discriminatory Voter ID law,” a February 18 Facebook post by the N.C. Democratic Party said. “Democracy works best when we break down barriers to the ballot box.”

Republicans in the state have advocated a voter photo ID requirement for well over a decade on the grounds that it will reduce certain types of voter fraud, such as voting twice. Others have maintained that such incidents are exceedingly rare and that ID requirements disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.

“North Carolinians know that General Assembly leaders will continue to fight on their behalf for a commonsense voter ID law that they chose to put in our state constitution,” House Speaker Tim Moore, a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a press release on Tuesday. “We will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice.”

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