Voter ID trial in North Carolina concludes today


Closing arguments are set to begin this afternoon in the closely watched federal trial on North Carolina’s photo ID requirement. Closing arguments to begin in voter ID trial:

WillimaBarberJanet Thornton, a labor economist at Economic Research Services in Florida, was the last witness that state attorneys called. Plaintiffs, including the N.C. NAACP, rested their case Thursday.

The photo ID requirement was passed in 2013 as part of a sweeping elections law that state Republican legislators pushed soon after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That section required mostly southern states and 40 counties in North Carolina to seek federal approval of major changes in elections laws.

Voting rights activists consider North Carolina’s election law, known as the Voter Information Verification Act, to be one of the most restrictive in the country. The photo ID requirement didn’t take effect until this year and was amended last year just weeks before a federal trial on other provisions of the law.

The N.C. NAACP, the U.S. Department of Justice and others filed a federal lawsuit in 2013, alleging that the elections law places undue burdens on blacks and Hispanics, is unconstitutional and violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Thornton was called to criticize the work of one of the plaintiffs’ experts — Charles Stewart, a professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Stewart testified last week that based on his analysis matching databases from the State Board of Elections and the Department of Motor Vehicles, blacks were twice more likely to lack a photo ID than whites.

Thornton testified that Stewart’s methodology was flawed and that it was hard to know exactly how many people did not have a photo ID. She also testified that his analysis failed to account for voters who were later removed from voter registration rolls or were considered inactive.

U.S. Judge Thomas D. Schroeder told attorneys on both sides that he wants the case finished by 3:15 p.m. today. He will not make a decision Monday but will issue one sometime after Feb. 24.

The Washington Post editorializes today, North Carolina’s voter ID shenanigans:

As a legal proposition, it’s difficult to prove that a government policy was devised with the deliberate intent of racial discrimination. But make no mistake: North Carolina’s highly restrictive voting rights law, enacted in 2013, is meant to suppress votes, in particular votes cast by minorities for Democrats.

Even the federal judge who refused to suspend implementation of the law’s obnoxious voter ID rules acknowledged it was “highly suspect” that the GOP-dominated legislature had excluded public-assistance IDs from among acceptable forms of identification at the polls; they are disproportionately held by African Americans, who vote heavily for Democrats.

U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder has not yet ruled on the merits of the overall law or the voter ID part of it, which is being separately challenged by the NAACP and other groups. Nonetheless, in refusing to immediately suspend the voter ID requirements, he cited the state’s own estimate that roughly 5 percent of registered voters in North Carolina, about 218,000 people, appeared to lack suitable photo IDs when they voted in 2014, before the law was fully implemented.

GOP lawmakers in Raleigh argue, as do Republicans elsewhere, that imposing stringent photo ID rules will prevent fraud at the polls — never mind that there is no evidence of significant or systematic voting fraud in North Carolina or elsewhere.

More telling was the surgical precision with which North Carolina Republicans approved certain forms of photo IDs for voting and excluded others. In expert testimony for the plaintiffs, Allan Lichtman, an American University professor, pointed out that the legislation allows identification disproportionately held by whites, such as passports, motor vehicle department IDs, expired IDs for those over age 70, and veteran and military IDs. At the same time, Mr. Lichtman said, legislators excluded student IDs, government employee IDs, and, as Judge Schroeder noted, public assistance IDs from being used by voters at the polls; those are disproportionately held by African Americans.

Evidently seeking to beat back the legal challenge, lawmakers last year softened North Carolina’s voter ID requirement, before it takes full effect for the 2016 elections, by allowing voters without the required ID to cast provisional ballots if they attest that transportation problems, illness, family obligations or some other “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining the right card.

That’s nice, but it’s a fair guess that confusion about voter ID requirements is already rampant. And other obnoxious parts of the law remain, including provisions eliminating a one-hour extension of voting hours in the event of long lines, prohibiting provisional voting by people who err by showing up at the wrong precinct, and scrapping pre-registration by teenagers before their 18th birthdays.

The legal challenge to those provisions was rejected by the state’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, who contends the plaintiffs favor “practices that are favored by political organizations dedicated to maximizing Democratic turnout.”

Well, yes. Maximizing turnout — Democratic and Republican — should be the goal of any reasonable voting legislation enacted in a democracy. Cynically, North Carolina has taken the opposite approach.

The voter ID portion of this trial is the second part of a broader challenge to North Carolina’s Voter Information Verification Act under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That trial concluded last July. Judge Thomas D. Schroeder is expected to issue his ruling in both cases, possibly in one opinion.


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