News: Quick Takes

Republicans use Democrats’ words against them as voter ID lawsuit continues

History professor James Leloudis of UNC-Chapel Hill testifies during a trial involving North Carolina's voter ID law. (Image from the Wake County Superior Court YouTube channel)
History professor James Leloudis of UNC-Chapel Hill testifies during a trial involving North Carolina's voter ID law. (Image from the Wake County Superior Court YouTube channel)

During day two of a trial in a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter identification law, Senate Republicans highlighted supportive comments uttered by Democrats when the General Assembly approved the law in 2018.

“Lawyers for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a left-wing legal organization, have attempted to characterize the law and those who backed it as ‘racist,’ even though the law was sponsored by an African American Democrat,” according to a news release from Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus.

“They’ve also alleged, improbably, that the bill’s backers, including an African American Democrat, sought to ‘entrench’ Republican majorities through a partisan legislative process,” Newton’s release added.

“The lawyers’ attempts to redefine history are undercut by quotes from key Democratic legislators who spoke favorably of the process during debate over the bill in late 2018,” according to the release. “It would seem to defy logic that anyone, let alone Democratic legislators, would praise an insidious and ‘racist’ Republican effort.”

The Senate Republicans’ release then highlights a series of quotations supporting the GOP’s argument.

“I’d just like to say thank you to [Republican senators] for their work on the bill and for being open and inclusive in listening to us on the other side of the aisle in trying to come up with something that is reasonable in terms of its approach,” said Floyd McKissick, who served as a Democratic senator representing Durham County in 2018. “So I want to thank you for that effort.”

“I want to thank the bill sponsors for the hard work that you’ve been doing in negotiating and accepting many of the amendments that have been placed before you,” said Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton. Smith later sought the Democratic Party’s U.S. Senate nomination in 2020.

“I want to very sincerely acknowledge the work that [Republican senators] did, particularly around amendments that have been brought to you by my colleagues, my Democratic colleagues,” said Terry Van Duyn, a Democratic senator then representing Buncombe County. Van Duyn sought Democrats’ nomination for lieutenant governor in 2020. “I’m very grateful for every one that you’ve incorporated.”

“We appreciate the Republican caucus amending the bill to allow issuance of voter IDs during early voting,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham.

“This bill is a much better bill than the bill that left this chamber in 2013,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford.

McKissick and Smith are both black. Neither one voted for the bill. But a fellow black Democratic senator, Joel Ford, sponsored the voter ID legislation (Senate Bill 824) now facing a legal challenge. A fourth black senator, Don Davis, voted for the bill’s final version.

Republican senators issued their news release as plaintiffs continued presenting a case Tuesday. Testimony focused primarily on a report from history professor James Leloudis of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Leloudis backed voter ID critics’ arguments that an ID requirement would have a larger negative impact on black voters than whites.

State lawmakers approved the voter ID law in December 2018. That was roughly one month after N.C. voters added the ID requirement to the state constitution. Roughly 2 million voters (55% of the total) supported placing photo ID for voters in the state’s fundamental governing document.

Lawsuits in state and federal court delayed implementation of voter ID in North Carolina throughout the 2020 election cycle.

Observers expect the trial to continue beyond this week.