Tuesday, February 27, 2024

NAACP wants answers on voter ID law, judge grants partial request

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP has successfully motioned to continue discovery, or the process of gaining information, in its lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter ID law. (Port City Daily/File)

How will North Carolina’s voter ID law be implemented? 

It’s a question the NAACP and its lawyers would like to have answered. They believe information can be found in records belonging to the state board of elections and the General Assembly. 

READ MORE: As the voter ID law goes into effect, opinions vary on future impact

The North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP has successfully motioned to continue discovery, or the process of gaining information, in its lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter ID law. Judge L. Patrick Auld of the U.S. Middle District granted the request on July 26. 

The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit in 2018 on behalf of several state chapters, including the cities of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem, along with Moore, Stokes and Forsyth counties.

The defendants include chair Alan Hirsch, on behalf of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and as of last year, to include House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger on behalf of the North Carolina General Assembly. 

Proceedings have been paused since December 2021 due to Berger and Moore’s challenge to intervene in the case. After two denied requests, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the legislators to join as defendants in June 2022.

In June 2023, the NAACP requested the postponement be lifted and to receive records from 2018 to present. The NAACP filed the suit in December 2018, one month after the passage of Senate Bill 824, which requires voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. It was supposed to go to trial in January 2022, but proceedings paused due to Berger and Moore’s attempts to intervene in the case. 

NAACP lawyers said much has changed in the two years since the stay was issued. The new requested discovery could have additional information about training for new staff and how the law will be carried out, according to NAACP’s motion.

According to Irving Joyner, a professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law and one of the lawyers representing the NAACP, the plaintiffs are seeking documents and other data pertaining to the implementation of the photo voter ID requirement. This includes how many and which registered voters do not presently possess a state-issued photo ID, and any assessments of how African Americans and other racial minority groups who are registered to vote will be impacted by the photo voter ID requirement.

Joyner said the NAACP is also asking for documents detailing what training is being provided to county BOEs, if any, regarding how the photo voter ID requirement will be put into effect. Plaintiffs are looking for what steps are being taken by the state BOE to ensure racial minorities will have equal access to the polls in future elections.

The NAACP has requested all documents and data exchanged between legislators during their discussions and deliberations about the enactment of the photo voter ID requirement.

“These records are necessary to show the history, thoughts, deliberations and considerations engaged in and exchanged by these defendants and others during the effort to enact and implement the state-issued photo ID requirement,” Joyner said.

 Though the law itself hasn’t changed since 2018, Joyner said one major factor in the state has.

“There are no significant differences between the conditions which existed in 2018 and today, except that there are more African Americans and racial minority voters who are registered to vote,” he said.

But according to the state BOE, 1,565,572 African-American voters were registered in North Carolina in 2018. That number dropped 7% to 1,471,572 in 2021. As of July 29, 1,464,542 Black voters are registered in the state, noting an additional 1% decrease.

However, a rising Hispanic population shows voter registration has increased for that sect of minorities. In 2018, there were 200,584 Hispanic voters, which rose significantly to 239,270 in 2021. It currently stands at 271,481 registered voters — a 27% spike in the last five years.

Last week the judge ruled the records NAACP wants may only come from 2021 to present. Anything prior to the case being paused was not included in his ruling. He said enough information has already been gathered since 2018. 

The pause on the trial remains, yet NAACP has asked for a pre-trial meeting so both sides can discuss progress of the case. The judge has not yet made a decision on whether to allow the meeting or set a date for the trial.

Judge Auld gave the BOE until Aug. 3 to provide any new relevant election information dating back to 2021, and gave lawyers representing Moore and Berger until Aug. 16 to comply.

Port City Daily reached out to Moore and Berger about the lawsuit, but neither responded by press.

Both sides have until Aug. 23 to complete their motions.

The voter ID will remain in effect for the 2023 municipal elections; however, the outcome of the NAACP’s motion could affect the 2024 primaries and beyond.

Proponents of the law have said an ID is needed to purchase alcohol, tobacco or gain entry into events and board flights, so why not in elections. Joyner said those activities are not the same as the fundamental right to vote.

“In addition, there has not been a history of Jim Crow racial discriminatory laws enacted by the legislature which prevented African Americans and other racial minorities from being born in a hospital and resulting in thousands of members from these populations from obtaining a birth certificate, a document which is required in order to obtain a state issued photo ID,” Joyner said.

On June 26, the state BOE crafted temporary rules, using public input, on the voter ID law for county boards of elections to follow. On July 17, the state BOE approved the use of student and state employee photo IDs for voting and by July 20, the Rules Review Commission approved the state board’s proposals on voter ID for in-person and absentee voting.

Absentee voters will have to cast ballots using a packet. Inside that packet are three envelopes with a return slot to put the ballot in and another to ensure security for a photocopy of the voter’s ID, or to include an ID Exception Form explaining why one does not have an ID.

The voter has to prove a “reasonable impediment” to showing a photo ID and must provide a reason by selecting from the following choices on the form:

  • Lack of transportation
  • Disability or illness
  • Lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain ID
  • Work schedule
  • Family responsibilities
  • Lost or stolen photo ID
  • Photo ID applied for but not yet received
  • (For mail voters only) Unable to attach a copy of photo ID
  • Other reasonable impediment (if selected, the voter must write the reason on the form)
  • The voter has a religious objection to being photographed, or the voter was a victim of a natural disaster within 100 days before Election Day.

The NAACP argues the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It also points to a 1977 Supreme Court discrimination case. Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp was given as an example of how several indicators can be used when determining if race was a factor, such as prior history, unusual actions, or written or audio statements from administrative and political figures that may influence a decision. 

In that 5-3 ruling, with Justice John Paul Stevens abstaining, the high court found an Illinois city’s denial of a rezoning request to a development company that planned to construct a low-income, racially-diverse neighborhood did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, because discriminatory intent was not the purpose in the city’s decision.

The justices ruled Arlington Heights had no history of discriminatory practices, nor were there meeting minutes or other legislative or administrative history that could prove discrimination based on race.

The NAACP believes, with North Carolina’s documented century-long history of voter suppression against African-Americans, the Arlington Heights decision can be used to help in its lawsuit against the state BOE and the General Assembly.

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