North Carolina Voter ID Law Challenged

DURHAM, N.C. (CN) – The NAACP and the League of Women Voters sued North Carolina, claiming its new voter ID law violates voting rights and dilutes African Americans’ voting power.
     The two civil rights groups filed separate federal lawsuits, as lead plaintiffs. Both claim that H.B. 589, which the North Carolina General Assembly approved on July 26, will make it harder to vote and disproportionately affects African Americans.
     The 32-page NAACP lawsuit and the 29-page League of Women Voters complaint make similar allegations.
     “This lawsuit seeks to protect and preserve the voting rights of North Carolina citizens – rights imperiled by the passage of new legislation that imposes unjustified and discriminatory electoral burdens on large segments of the state’s population and will cause the denial, dilution, and abridgement of African-Americans’ fundamental right to vote,” the NAACP says in its lawsuit.
     North Carolina changed its voting laws after the June 25 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That provision required federal preclearance for changes in voting laws in counties with a history of racial discrimination in voting.
     North Carolina’s new law requires a photo ID, shortens the period for early voting and kills Election Day registration, among other things.
     “One month after Shelby County effectively nullified the preclearance requirements in the Voting Rights Act, the North Carolina General Assembly moved to enact sweeping new limitations on the franchise,” the NAACP says in its complaint.
     “On July 26, 2013, the General Assembly passed H.B. 589, which includes a number of substantial restrictions on voting opportunities in local, state, and federal elections. Among other things, H.B. 589: (i) imposes strict voter identification requirements; (ii) eliminates same-day voter registration; (iii) reduces early voting opportunities by reducing the number of days of early voting; (iv) prohibits the counting of provisional ballots cast by voters who go to the wrong precinct; and (v) expands the number of poll observers and the numbers of people who can challenge ballots.
     “In enacting H.B. 589, North Carolina became one of the first states to pass more restrictive voting laws following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County. The breadth of the new law is striking, targeting nearly every aspect of the voting process. One leading election-law scholar described H.B. 589 as ‘probably the most suppressive voting measure passed in the United States in decades.’
     “The voter-identification requirements of H.B. 589 require registered voters to show one of a limited number of specific government-issued photo identification cards in order to cast a ballot and have it counted in a North Carolina election. This requirement will disproportionately injure African-American voters, who are less likely than other members of the electorate to possess the required forms of identification and also face disproportionately greater burdens in obtaining such identification. As a result, African-American voters are more likely than other North Carolina voters to have their votes denied, diluted, or abridged by H.B. 589.
     “The same-day registration and early-voting provisions of H.B. 589 eliminate the possibility of same-day registration of voters during the early voting period and reduce the available days for early voting. These provisions will disproportionately injure African-American voters because African-American voters in North Carolina use same-day registration and early-voting opportunities at higher rates than white voters. During the 2012 election cycle, 70 percent of African-Americans who voted did so through early-voting opportunities. Same day registration and early voting have been highly successful programs utilized by large portions of the electorate. Yet nowhere in the legislative history or record did legislators offer a credible, non-discriminatory reason for eliminating these popular programs.
     “By providing that previously valid out-of-precinct provisional ballots will not be counted, H.B. 589 similarly has a disproportionate effect on African-American voters.
     African-American voters have, in past North Carolina elections, cast a disproportionate number of out-of-precinct provisional ballots. The impact of the new restriction on out-of-precinct provisional ballots is further compounded by the elimination of same-day registration procedures previously available to correct errors of this kind. The North Carolina General Assembly nonetheless eliminated both out-of-precinct provisional ballots and the same-day registration practice without specifying any credible (much less compelling) nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.
     “By expanding the number of poll observers and the numbers of people who can challenge ballots, H.B. 589 increases the likelihood of voter harassment and imposes a substantial and unlawful burden on the right to vote. The state Legislature passed these measures despite evidence of significant voter intimidation during the 2012 election cycle. On information and belief, these changes will disproportionately impact African-American voters.” (Parentheses in complaint).
     The North Carolina NAACP, which has 20,000 members, including in the 40 counties previously covered by the Voting Rights Act, says the amendments will harm many of its members.
     Its co-plaintiff, 92-year-old Louisburg resident Rosanell Eaton, claims the restrictions will affect her and many other voters she has been assisting as a poll worker, including elderly and disabled voters.
     “Mrs. Eaton has been a member of the North Carolina NAACP for 63 years,” the complaint states. “She was one of the first African-Americans registered to vote in the 1940s in Franklin County, North Carolina and regularly votes in North Carolina elections. As a child, Mrs. Eaton was forced to attend Franklin County segregated schools from elementary school until her senior year of high school. She was valedictorian of her graduating class. Mrs. Eaton vividly remembers the degradations and injuries of the era of Jim Crow in North Carolina during this time, when she and other African Americans in her community experienced enforced separation in private and public places of accommodation. She remembers the injury of drinking from ‘colored’ water fountains in Louisburg. As soon as she reached the age of eligibility, Mrs. Eaton traveled to the county courthouse to register to vote in Franklin County. As a part of a prerequisite literacy test reserved for African-Americans three county registrars forced Mrs. Eaton to recite the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which she did successfully. Since she became a registered voter, Mrs. Eaton has been active in assisting other African-Americans in her community both to register and to vote. Due in part to her involvement in these efforts and her membership in the NAACP, Mrs. Eaton remembers waking in her home some mornings to the sight of small crosses burned on her front lawn. Mrs. Eaton also experienced her home being shot at and the bullet hit just below her bedroom window. She is aware of other attempts to intimidate her African-American neighbors in Franklin County.”
     Eaton, who was born at home, says her driver’s license does not match her birth certificate and other documents. She says it would be costly and time-consuming to correct her documents to meet the voter ID requirements.
     The NAACP claims the provisions violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution, have a disproportionate impact on minorities and increase the likelihood of voter harassment.
     African Americans constitute 22 percent of the state’s population, but accounted for 29 percent of early voters in 2012, according to the complaint.
     African Americans are also more likely to vote on Sundays, and are disproportionately affected by the provision cutting early voting Sundays, the NAACP says.
     It claims the amendments are not justified by any compelling state interest, nor backed by evidence of significant voting fraud.
     “Lacking evidence of actual voter fraud, proponents of the bill resorted to their own suspicions, based largely on personal anecdotes, that fraud was rampant in the state,” the complaint states. “For example, one speaker in favor of H.B. 589 cited as evidence of potential voter fraud ‘a TV story of a blond woman in San Diego’ who discovered that ‘an illegal had his photo made onto her credit card.'”
     Since 2000, the State Board of Elections has reported only two cases of alleged voter impersonation, and very few allegations of voter fraud, according to the complaint.
     The NAACP, Eaton and their six Doe co-plaintiffs want the state enjoined from enforcing the law.
     They are represented by Adam Stein with Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, of Chapel Hill, and Penda Hair with the Advancement Project in Washington D.C.
     Plaintiffs in the second lawsuits, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Unifour Onestop Collaborative, Common Cause North Carolina, and five individual voters are represented by Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
     Both lawsuits name as defendants Gov. Patrick McCrory and members of the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
     “Let me be direct,” McCrory said in a video statement shortly after signing the bill. “Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID have been using scare tactics. They’re more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot. Protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties I have as governor.”

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