Courts & the Law, News, Voting

Same court that struck down NC voter ID law upholds Virginia’s, notes difference in case facts

The same court that struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law just months ago ruled Tuesday to uphold Virginia’s law, though it is noted in the court document that the facts of the cases “are in no way” alike.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled in Lee v. Virginia Board of Elections that Virginia’s law does not place an undue burden on minority voting and there was no evidence to suggest racially discriminatory intent in the law’s enactment.

Virginia has required voters to present identification in all elections since 1996, but until 2012, residents without an ID could still vote if they signed a document affirming their identity. Eventually, legislation was passed by the Republican-led General Assembly to require a photo ID from all voters.

Anyone without a photo ID can cast a provisional ballot to be cured within a few days with a proper ID.

While noting that Virginia’s law in question added another layer of inconvenience to the voting process, judges said it affected all voters equally. On the argument that the legislature intentionally discriminated on the basis of race and age by passing the law, “the court found that the evidence failed ‘to show any departure from normal legislative procedures.'”

In its conclusion, the court said its decision is not sweeping of all election rules that result in a disparity in the convenience of voting.

As we noted in North Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. McCrory, 831 F.3d 204, 241 (4th Cir. 2016), “it cannot be that states must forever tip-toe around certain voting provisions” that would have more effect on the voting patterns of one group than another. Rather, [this case] asks us to evaluate whether the Virginia process has diminished the opportunity of the protected class to participate in the electoral process. If Virginia had required voters to present identifications without accommodating citizens who lacked them, the rule might arguably deprive some voters of an equal opportunity to vote. But where, as here, Virginia allows everyone to vote and provides free photo IDs to persons without them, we conclude that SB 1256 provides every voter an equal opportunity to vote and thus does not violate § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In contrast to the Virginia case, the Court of Appeals that struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law “concluded that, based on the totality of circumstances, the North Carolina process targeted black voters with ‘almost surgical precision.'” You can read more about that decision here.

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