North Carolina’s Voter ID Trial Kicks Off Fiver Years After Federal Suit

The federal trial in a case that’s challenging the new voter identification law in North Carolina started on Monday after a long wait.

A civil rights group filed the federal lawsuit, claiming that the new requirement by North Carolina that all voters must show photo ID at the polls harms Latino and Black voters and is against the law.

The trial, which won’t have a jury, finally began this week, five years after the state NAACP and many local chapters first filed suit back in 2018. The groups say that the requirement for a photo ID — as well as two other provisions in the law — are in violation of the U.S. Constitution as well as the Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs in the case allege that lawmakers enacted these new laws with intent that was discriminatory in nature.

This lawsuit, as well as one that was filed at the state court level, delayed the law from being implemented in North Carolina until the municipal elections that took place last year.

During the March primary elections, all 1.8 million people who cast a ballot had to comply with all provisions in the new law.

According to data on file with the state election authority, less than 500 provisional ballots weren’t counted in those primaries due to issues related to a voter’s ID.

In the federal case, the NAACP argues that some voters have already been “caught up in the traps of the law” or were deterred from showing up at the polls to vote, as Kathleen Roblez, an attorney for the group, said during her opening statement.

As she argued:

This case is about impermissible and intentional racial discrimination. … [The requirement] has already produced a discriminatory result for Black and brown voters.”

The attorney argued that those voters were much less likely to have a qualifying ID, compared to their white counterparts.

An attorney who’s representing the Republican legislators in North Carolian who helped to enact the new law in North Carolina countered that argument by saying the law is actually one of the most permissive voter ID requirements among the states that have passed such laws.

That’s because North Carolina makes free IDs available to anyone, and provides exceptions to voters who aren’t able to obtain one.

The law ultimately was passed after voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that directed a photo ID mandate. Then, legislators passed the law, overriding a veto by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

David Thompson, one of the lawyers for the defendants, argued in court:

“A legislature bent on discriminating would not have created all of these exceptions. The General Assembly was compelled by the people of North Carolina to enact a voter ID law.”

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, who is overseeing the trial, has said already that she won’t rule immediately from the bench once the trial ends.

If the NAACP is successful in its case, the photo ID requirement would be lifted in time for the general election in November.