North Carolina Voter ID Trial Begins Ahead of Pivotal Election

North Carolina Voter ID Trial Begins Ahead of Pivotal Election
Voters arrive and check in on Super Tuesday at Mt. Moriah Primitive Baptist Church, Precinct 11 Mecklenburg County, in Charlotte, N.C., on March 5, 2024. (Grant Baldwin/Getty Images)

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s voter ID law went to trial on May 6, with a civil rights group charging that it discriminates against black and Hispanic voters.

The non-jury trial, held in Winston-Salem, comes at a crucial juncture as voters are gearing up to select the next president of the United States.

“This case is about impermissible and intentional racial discrimination,” Kathleen Roblez, an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, asserting that the state’s requirement for voters to present a qualifying photo ID to vote “has already produced a discriminatory result for black and brown voters.”

The disputed law was enacted in 2018 by North Carolina’s GOP-controlled General Assembly. It passed just weeks after voters approved a constitutional amendment mandating photo ID, though its implementation was delayed until last year’s municipal elections due to the lawsuit filed by the North Carolina NAACP and local chapters.

Specifically, the new law does not prevent those who fail to present the required ID from voting on election day. Voters who do not have the necessary identification with them when they arrive at the polls can fill out an ID exception form and then vote with a provisional ballot. For their vote to count, however, the voter must then bring their photo ID to their local board of elections office before the county canvass.

Ms. Roblez argued that the law violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act because lawmakers enacted it with the intent to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters, whom she said are more than twice as likely to lack the necessary form of ID as white voters.

However, attorney David Thompson, representing Republican lawmakers who passed the law, said it was one of the most permissive voter ID laws in the country. In addition to the exception form, he noted that free IDs have been made available in every county.

“A legislature bent on discriminating would not have created all of these exceptions,” Mr. Thompson said. “The General Assembly was compelled by the people of North Carolina to enact a voter ID law.”

Ms. Roblez, however, said she plans to bring in witnesses who experienced problems voting in recent elections due to the new requirements.

Challengers also take issue with other aspects of the law, including its expansion of the number of poll observers and looser restrictions on who can challenge ballots.

The trial is expected to last for several days. Judge Biggs has signaled that she will not rule immediately from the bench. An appeal is also likely, regardless of her decision.

Notably, some of her prior rulings in the case have been overturned by higher courts.

In 2019, the Obama appointee granted a preliminary injunction blocking the ID law’s enforcement, citing North Carolina’s “long history of race discrimination” and the previous nullification of a 2013 voter ID law under similar circumstances. That ruling was later reversed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that she’d relied too heavily on the General Assembly’s past conduct in her determination.

Additionally, when the state’s House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger sought to join the lawsuit as defendants, Judge Biggs denied the Republicans’ request. Upon appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2022 that they could join the suit.

Battle for North Carolina

The trial’s outcome could have significant implications for the 2024 presidential election.

As recently as March, North Carolina voters were required to show photo ID when they cast their ballots in the state’s presidential primaries. A ruling in favor of the NAACP could erase that requirement this fall.

North Carolina has become a fierce presidential battleground in recent years. Although voters there have swung Republican in 10 of the last 12 presidential elections, the last four were decided by small margins.

North Carolina also now controls 16 electoral votes—up one from 2020—making it an even bigger prize than in previous years.

That could be why President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, stopped in Wilmington on May 2. While there, he announced that he was allocating an additional $3 million to replace the nation’s lead pipes.

“There’s no–no—safe level of lead exposure. None,” President Biden said. “The only way forward is to replace every lead service line that connects every American to clean water. That’s why Kamala and I are making sure the administration is the first ever to set out to do it, and we’re going to get it done.”

The GOP has also signaled North Carolina’s importance to its 2024 strategy by selecting two Tarheel State natives to lead the Republican National Committee (RNC). Michael Whatley, the new RNC chair, comes to the position from his previous role leading the North Carolina Republican Party. And his co-chair, Lara Trump, was born and raised in the state.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, was also set to hold a rally in Wilmington—his daughter-in-law’s hometown—on April 20, but the event was postponed due to inclement weather.

“The Wilmington market and southeastern North Carolina are important to winning statewide,” Matt Mercer of the North Carolina Republican Party told The Epoch Times at the time.

The event has yet to be rescheduled.

Lawrence Wilson, T.J. Muscaro, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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