North Carolina’s new voter ID law is headed to court.
This week the N.C. General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s Dec. 14 veto of Senate Bill 824, Implementation of Voter I.D. Constitutional Amendment. Now, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the N.C. NAACP are suing over allegations of racial discrimination and burdens on voting rights.
S.B. 824 is the product of a new constitutional amendment passed by voters 55-45 in November. Accordingly, photo ID must be enforced by state law.
Such is the purpose of S.B. 824.
The bill, which had bipartisan sponsorship, still faced hard fire from some Democrats, who called it racist. It also disgruntled some Republicans, who thought the law should be stricter. That didn’t prevent it from passing the House and Senate.
Cooper vetoed, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.” The bill was kicked back to the General Assembly, which holds a veto-proof supermajority until January, when Democrats will take control of several seats Republicans held in this year’s legislative session.
“The North Carolina Constitution provides numerous and inviolable protections for the fundamental right to vote of all its citizens,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for SCSJ. “Just because the North Carolina Constitution now authorizes, with exceptions, the presentation of a picture ID when voting does not mean those other longstanding protections can be ignored or violated.” SCSJ filed its lawsuit Wednesday afternoon, minutes after the House override vote.
S.B. 824 is closely modeled after Indiana legislation upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the law is purposefully discriminatory and is “disproportionately impacting African-American and American-Indian qualified voters,” SCSJ stated.
S.B. 824 also unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote, creates separate classes of voters, imposes a cost on voting, imposes a property requirement for voting, and impedes voters’ ability to engage in political expression and speech by casting a ballot, the organization said.
“It is the legislature’s duty to balance competing demands in the state Constitution. It has failed miserably in its exercise of balancing the new ID constitutional amendment, which explicitly allows for exceptions, with the numerous other state constitutional demands that have been interpreted to aggressively protect the right to vote,” Riggs said.
“Any legislative scheme that requires voters to present ID when voting must have fail-safe measures to ensure that not one single eligible voter is disenfranchised. Our state Constitution demands it. This legislation does not do that. It simply replicates a scheme that we know disenfranchised approximately 1,400 voters in the March 2016 primaries.”
The claims are nonsense, said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, a primary sponsor of the S.B. 824.
“This is crazy. After suing to stop voters from even having the chance to amend the constitution to require voter ID, liberal activists are suing again saying the new constitutional amendment is unconstitutional,” Krawiec said.
“It’s clear nothing will ever appease them. Not the will of the voters, not the fact that a Democrat sponsored the bill, and not the broad additions based on Democratic feedback. We’ve seen this ‘sue ‘til blue’ tactic before, only this time they’re up against a clear mandate from 55 percent of voters who want common-sense protections against voter fraud,” she said.
SCSJ is representing six plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in Wake County Superior Court, along with a request for a preliminary injunction.
In 2013, SCSJ challenged a North Carolina voter ID law which ultimately was struck down by a three-judge federal appeals court panel.
The judges called it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
That bill nixed a week of early voting and ended out-of-precinct voting in addition to requiring specific forms of photo ID.
The provisions targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision,” the judges’ 83-page ruling states.
Voters have multiple photo ID options under S.B. 824.
Driver’s licenses, military IDs, student IDs from community colleges and public or private universities, tribal enrollment cards, and state employee IDs are accepted. The law also provides free, state-issued voter ID cards for anyone who needs identification.
During debate over the veto override, Democrats asked to include other documents as acceptable voter IDs, including welfare benefit cards. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Elections Committee, said he was open to additional tweaks in the law, but didn’t commit to specific changes.
The NAACP filed its lawsuit Thursday on behalf of voters across the state. Lead counsel Irving Joyner said, “This is a brazen effort by a lame-duck, usurper legislature to once again legislate voter suppression. This law is designed to suppress the votes of people of color. The federal courts have seen through this legislature’s attempts to do this before and we are confident that they will see through this current attempt, as well.”