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Plaintiffs ask three-judge panel to halt voter ID implementation

A three-judge panel is considering blocking North Carolina’s latest attempt to require a photo ID at the ballot box because the plaintiffs in a lawsuit allege the new law is racially discriminatory and will result in eligible voters being disenfranchised.

“North Carolina is not operating on a blank slate here — the legislature has been trying for years now to enact voter ID,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

She represents six voters who filed the lawsuit the day Senate Bill 824 was enacted. North Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment in the fall that requires a photo ID to vote, but it was broad and the bill implementing it is narrow in terms of what type of identification will be accepted.

Two of the plaintiffs are disabled and don’t have photo IDs but have spent a considerable amount of time trying to get them; two are students who are likely to get caught in the hurdle ahead of which schools IDs will be permitted and which won’t; and the two other individuals have photo IDs and used them the last time a voter ID law was enacted but still were disenfranchised by having their votes thrown out of the March 2016 primary.

Riggs said the evidence of disenfranchisement in that primary is a good indicator of how the voter ID law will be implemented again. She presented evidence that the law bears more heavily on one group than another, that the legislative process and history shows ill intent, that lawmakers made decisions relying on data that condemned the previous law and that the legislative process was a departure from the norm.

Even with a reasonable impediment provision in the previous voter ID law — legislators’ “fail safe” — 184 votes cast with that declaration were thrown out, according to information from the State Board of Elections. The majority of those affected were Black voters.

“The reasonable impediment provision does almost nothing to save a law that severely burdens the right to vote,” said Riggs.

An attorney for the legislative defendants, David Thompson, said the legislation passed was modeled on a successful similar measure in South Carolina and that it permits every person who has the right to vote to do so.

He criticized the plaintiffs and said they could not find a single person who wouldn’t be able to vote under the new law. He said the measure was one of the most lenient voter ID laws in the country.

Thompson rebuked the statistics Riggs presented and asked why an African-American Democratic lawmaker would support the bill if it was racially discriminatory. He was referring to Joel Ford, a Senator at the time who is no longer in office.

“The bottom line is that there’s a presumption of good faith,” he said. “Speculation does not give them standing.”

Paul Cox, who represents the state and the State Board of Elections, agreed that the voter ID law was not overly burdensome and asked the three-judge panel not to issue an injunction. If they did though, he asked that internal preparation still be allowed to go on in the event the law was eventually upheld.

The three-judge panel is Judge Nathaniel Poovey, of Catawba, Burke and Caldwell counties, Judge Michael O’Foghludha, of Durham and Judge Vince Rozier, of Wake County. Poovey said they hope to have a decision in the case within a week or two.

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