Federal judge blocks Voter ID

Published 5:49 pm Tuesday, January 7, 2020

While a war of words wages over last week’s decision by a federal judge that blocks North Carolina’s voter photo ID requirement from taking effect, the State Board of Elections has no other choice than to proceed along the lines of the judge’s order.

In a memorandum sent late last week, the State Board directed the 100 county boards of election to immediately stop issuing free Voter ID cards in an effort to avoid voter confusion. That memorandum also directed the local county boards to update their respective websites with the latest information about the judge’s injunction as well as removing any signs indicating photo ID is required to vote.

On Monday of this week, State Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell had a video posted to state’s BOE website (NCSBE.gov) informing North Carolina voters that they will not be required to show photo ID for the March 2020 primary election.

The State Board has also updated its website to reflect the changes, and will post information repeatedly on its social media accounts through March 3. The agency also will create a poster to be displayed in county board offices and at all early voting and Election Day polling locations, informing voters that ID is not required for the primary.

“The State Board is working diligently to make sure voters are informed that photo ID is not required in the March primary,” said Bell.

The primary is March 3. In-person early voting begins February 13. Absentee by-mail ballots are scheduled to go out beginning January 13.

On Dec. 31, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Biggs blocked Senate Bill 824. Biggs said racial motivation was a likely factor in the General Assembly’s crafting of the voter ID law. The N.C. NAACP, which brought the lawsuit, was likely to prevail in several of its allegations against the law, Biggs said.

In a story posted Jan. 2 by Rick Henderson of the Carolina Journal News Service, S.B. 824 was at least partly motivated by racially discriminatory intent, Biggs said in the order.

“The preliminary evidence demonstrates a clear likelihood that Plaintiffs will establish that discrimination was behind the law: S.B. 824 was enacted against a backdrop of recurring state-sanctioned racial discrimination and voter suppression efforts — both in the far and more recent past — and the state’s polarized electorate presents the opportunity to exploit race for partisan gain.”

The story went on to say that the law harms the NAACP and the voters it represents, Biggs added, saying that allowing the law to go forward would harm plaintiffs more than blocking it would harm the state. The elections board also has failed to educate voters enough about ID, meaning minority voters are likely to suffer, the court order said.

A Dec. 31 statement sent from the office of State Senator Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the Senate stated, “It is absolutely ridiculous that the judge would accuse the bill sponsors – including an African American Democrat – of being racist. The voters saw the need for voter ID and approved the constitutional amendment. The legislature, acting on the will of the people, enacted one of the broadest voter ID laws in the nation. Now this lawsuit, and last-minute ruling, have sowed additional discord and confusion about the voting process.

“The judge prohibited the legislature from defending the law it wrote,” the statement continued. “The only parties the judge allowed to defend the law are Governor Roy Cooper’s administration and Attorney General Josh Stein, both of whom oppose voter ID. As legislative leaders have said before, Attorney General Stein must appeal and move to stay this decision immediately, so the state can continue to move forward with the implementation of voter ID.”

Former state Sen. Joel Ford (D-Mecklenburg) was one of the authors of the law just struck down. When asked by WRAL News if there was any discriminatory intent behind the law he said “no.”

“When I looked at the legislation I asked myself, if my grandmother was still alive would she be able to vote under this legislation. And the answer is yes. How is it discriminatory when the photo ID is free?” Ford said.

On Jan. 2, a statement from Stein’s office read, “In the federal litigation over North Carolina’s photo identification voting requirement, the North Carolina Department of Justice will appeal the district court’s recent decision to enjoin the law pending a trial. However, to avoid any further voter confusion in the primary election in which absentee voting begins [Jan. 13] and to ensure that the primary election proceeds on schedule and is administered in an orderly manner, the Department will not seek a stay of this injunction before the primary. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will review the district court’s decision, but we anticipate that photo identification will not be required to vote in the primary per the district court’s decision.”

The State Board of Elections will continue to update the public with any developments.

Voters with questions may call the photo ID informational hotline at (919) 814-0744.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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