By John Trump
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Three years after the N.C. electorate decided to add a voter identification requirement to the state constitution, Republican lawmakers are defending voter ID in court.
A multiday trial started Monday, April 12, in a lawsuit challenging the state’s 2018 voter ID law, Senate Bill 824. Lawmakers approved that law to implement the constitutional requirement. Critics say the voter ID law unfairly targets black voters.
“At the close of evidence, plaintiffs believe that you’ll agree with us that the mountain of circumstantial evidence is so overwhelming that no alleged neutral justifications can overcome that mountain,” said Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She’s the lead attorney representing plaintiffs in the case.
“At the end, you’ll conclude that North Carolina once again enacted an unconstitutional law — a voter ID law designed to keep black voters from the ballot box,” Riggs added during her nearly 45-minute opening argument.
The law’s defenders pointed to some inconvenient facts for Riggs and her clients. Among those facts: Some black Democrats voted for the disputed bill. “You wouldn’t see this support from Democrats, from African-American Democrats, if [S.B.] 824 really were weaponized for political entrenchment of the opposing party,” said David Thompson, an attorney representing Republican legislative leaders.
Legislative Republicans also mounted a defense of the law in the court of public opinion.
“The requirement for photo voter ID is in the North Carolina Constitution: In 2018, North Carolina voters opted to amend their Constitution to require photo voter ID,” according to a news release from Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus. “Reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements about whether voter ID is a good policy, but that debate is over. The Constitution requires voter ID.”
“The law implementing voter ID was sponsored by an African-American Democrat,” Newton’s release added. “News coverage of the voter ID law almost always quotes left-wing activists who accuse the bill sponsors of racism. Yet that coverage almost never informs readers that one of the bill sponsors is an African-American Democrat. Reporters should take care to note that fact, not bury it.”
“The voter ID law is among the most permissive in the country,” according to the GOP release. “The law provides for free IDs to anybody who wants one. It permits a litany of ID options, from driver’s licenses to college IDs to tribal IDs and more. Any voter who does not have a photo ID can still fill out a ‘reasonable impediment’ form and cast a ballot. More restrictive laws in other states have already passed court muster.”
“Voter ID laws improve confidence in the electoral process,” Newton’s release adds. “Polling shows dangerously low confidence that the 2022 election will be ‘free and fair,’ and it’s true across all ideologies. Voter ID makes voters more confident in elections, and failing to implement voter ID after the people amended their own Constitution to require it shatters confidence.”
A three-judge panel is hearing arguments for and against the 2018 voter ID law. It’s not clear when the panel will issue a ruling.
State and federal lawsuits blocked implementation of voter ID in North Carolina during the entire 2020 election cycle. That’s despite 2 million voters (55% of the total) supporting voter ID in a November 2018 referendum to place the requirement within the N.C. Constitution.