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Editorial: ‘Foolish’ move to put voting restrictions in place before a full trial

The Wilmington Star News notes that the federal judge who will decide whether North Carolina’s voter suppression law should be placed on hold for the 2014 midterm elections has a lot to consider following last week’s testimony in Winston-Salem. But the editorial board concludes it would be foolish to enforce the law before a full trial. Here’s more from Monday’s Star News:

Voter IDSupporters say they just want to make sure that only properly registered voters have a say in our elections process. The integrity of our elections process is indeed important. But so is ensuring that citizens have the right to participate in that process without facing unnecessary or politically motivated obstacles.

The new voting laws are likely to discourage or exclude many qualified voters. Other states have adopted tough voting laws, but North Carolina’s is said to be the most exclusionary. It does not, for example, provide an alternative to people who do not have photo identification and would have financial or logistical difficulty retrieving a certified birth certificate required to get a government-issued photo ID. That would be a reasonable addition.

Voting is a constitutional right for U.S. citizens 18 and older. It is not a privilege, as is getting a driver’s license or boarding a flight. The government should have to clear a high bar before denying the vote to any citizen.

Kim Strach, the state elections director – whose husband is among the lawyers defending the voting laws – confirmed in a video deposition that the type of fraud North Carolina’s laws purport to prevent is exceedingly rare. Only one case was prosecuted in 10 years. In addition, Strach pointed to a double standard: No photo ID is required for voters who file absentee ballots, a method that tends to be used more by Republican voters.

Democratic voters, on the other hand – and especially black Democrats – are more partial to early voting. But early voting is popular across all demographics. In the 2012 general election, 56 percent of North Carolinians who went to the polls voted before Election Day.

The court has a lot to decide. It would be foolish to put these laws in place before the full trial, where both sides have the ability to lay out all their evidence and prove their case. The most restrictive of the provisions, including the photo ID requirement, do not take effect until 2016 anyway.

Delaying implementation of the voting restrictions until after the District Court-level ruling is the prudent course of action. That also would give the Honorables time to reconsider how to better ensure that in stopping fraud – a legitimate government goal – the law does not – inadvertently or deliberately – disenfranchise any voting-age citizen.

You can read the full editorial here.

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