Ballot battles: GOP pushes again for voter ID, ACLU challenges roadblock to voting by mail

With the start of early voting in North Carolina for the 2020 election set to commence in just over three months, court battles over access to the ballot are picking up steam.

As Policy Watch reported last month, state Republicans have not given up on their effort to require voter ID for in-person voting this fall despite state and federal court orders enjoining the statutory scheme that was enacted in the aftermath of voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment on the subject. Yesterday, GOP lawmakers filed a motion in state Superior Court asking that the current state court-issued bar on voter ID be lifted in response to legislation enacted during the legislative short session that expanded the number of ID’s that would considered acceptable under state law.

Opponents of voter ID say that there are many other ways in which such a requirement suppresses voter participation and that mere expansion of the number of acceptable forms of identification fails to cure the problem.

Meanwhile, voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit this morning challenging what they say is another major impediment to the franchise in the state’s absentee ballot/voting-by-mail requirements. This from a release distributed by the ACLU of North Carolina:

RALEIGH, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina, and Sullivan & Cromwell filed a lawsuit today challenging absentee ballot witness requirements that needlessly put North Carolinians at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The lawsuit seeks to block provisions in state law that require voters who submit a mail-in absentee ballot to have at least one witness sign their ballot return envelope, even in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly pandemic. The case was brought on behalf of several voters, including some who have chronic conditions placing them at risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

The state recently passed a law that temporarily reduces the requirement from two witnesses to one for purposes of “an election held in 2020,” but, the lawsuit notes, “the adoption of this temporary regime does not ameliorate the severe health risks caused by witnessing ballots during COVID-19 and merely reflects an acknowledgement on the state’s part that the witness requirements are at odds with public health. Both the original and the temporary witness requirements necessitate face-to-face and hand-to-hand interaction between voters and others who pose a potentially fatal risk to the voter’s health.”

“No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Removing the witness requirements in the middle of a deadly pandemic just makes sense. It is an obvious and common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

North Carolina is one of only 12 states that require an individual submitting an absentee ballot to have a witness sign their ballot envelope. It is one of only three states that require two witness signatures on absentee ballots. Some of these states have recently suspended these requirements, or have been required to suspend them, on the grounds that they unduly burden the right to vote….

The lawsuit cites violations of the state Constitution’s fundamental right to vote.

Systemic health and social inequities have meant that Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately hard hit by the pandemic. And while people of all ages have contracted and died from COVID-19, it is particularly fatal for older individuals and poses greater risks for people with preexisting heart and respiratory conditions and those with compromised immune systems….

The ACLU is asking the court to block the state from enforcing the witness requirements while COVID-19 emergency orders are in place and/or community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring, and order it to issue guidance instructing city and county election officials to count otherwise validly cast absentee ballots that are missing witness signatures.

Click here to view the complaint and here to view a summary of the case.

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