Voter ID Law Upheld by U.S. Court in North Carolina

by | April 26, 2016

By Anne Blythe

A federal judge has upheld North Carolina's voter ID law in a ruling posted Monday evening.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder issued a 485-page ruling dismissing all claims in the challenge to the state's sweeping 2013 election law overhaul.

Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, also ruled for the 2013 law that cut the number of days people could vote early, eliminated same-day registration and voting and prohibits people from casting a ballot outside their precinct.

The decision comes nearly three months after a trial on the ID portion of the law.

"This ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common-sense, it's constitutional," Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement. "Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and thankfully a federal court has ensured our citizens will have the same protection for their basic right to vote."

In reaching the decision released Monday, Schroeder conducted a two-part trial that spanned over 21 days in July and this past January. He considered the testimony of 21 expert witnesses and 112 other witnesses, and more than 25,000 pages that are part of the record.

The ruling won swift condemnation from civil rights organizations that challenged the 3-year-old changes to North Carolina's voting process.

"The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. "This ruling does not change that reality. We are already examining an appeal."

An appeal is likely and many expect the U.S. Supreme Court to be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of a law that has been monitored by many.

"We're confident that the voters in this state will eventually be vindicated," said Allison Riggs, a senior staff attorney at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represented challengers to the law.

The legal battle is one of several being watched across the nation as courts address questions of the fairness and lasting impacts ID laws have on voting rights.

In North Carolina, voters were required this year to use one of six specified IDs when they cast ballots _ unless they could show they faced a "reasonable impediment" for getting one.

The rule is part of sweeping changes to North Carolina's elections law that were shepherded through the Republican-led General Assembly and signed into law by McCrory, a Republican, in 2013, the first year the party had control of both chambers and the governor's office.

In 2015, on the eve of the federal trial, North Carolina legislators added a "reasonable impediment" option that gave voters who did not have or could not get an ID the option of casting a provisional ballot.

In the March primaries, many college students who did not have one of the specfiied IDs ran into problems and had to cast provisional ballots, some of which counted, others that didn't.

That data was not before Schroeder as he issued his opinion.

Bob Hall, head of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization, said Monday he was not surprised by Schroeder's ruling.

"He ruled as long expected; he just took 485 pages to do so," Hall said. "In one telling section, he concludes, 'There is significant, shameful past discrimination. In North Carolina's recent history, however, certainly for the last quarter century, there is little official discrimination to consider.' Hopefully, other judges will take off the rose-colored glasses and look at the facts and law with more care."

Schroeder did keep in place same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting for the June 8 primaries, in which U.S. congressional and North Carolina Supreme Court candidates will be on the ballot.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said Monday it would take him time to read the full 485-page opinion. But he said on quick glance, it looked to be "very comprehensive."

Tobias questioned whether an appeal could be resolved in time for the November elections. "I assume the higher courts will be sensitive to timing issues but it is unclear how much they can do," Tobias added.

(c)2016 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)