RALEIGH — A lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s voter identification requirement should be allowed to continue even after the legislature added exceptions this summer easing the mandate that goes into effect next year, lawyers fighting the law told a state judge Monday.
But a state attorney said the changes made to the 2013 law have addressed the accusations made in the litigation, giving registered voters who lack a qualifying photo ID a way to cast ballots in person anyway.
“There is no question that the General Assembly in what they enacted answered the questions of unconstitutionality that the plaintiffs have raised,” Special Deputy Attorney General Alec Peters told Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan in a Raleigh courtroom. Peters said the lawsuit is moot and should be dismissed.
Morgan didn’t rule immediately on the state’s request, nor on motions by the voting rights groups and voters challenging the law. They want to delay the voter ID implementation until after the presidential primary election, likely in March. Otherwise, the photo ID requirement begins in early 2016. Morgan said he would issue his rulings in about three weeks.
The amendment signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory in June allows those who suffered a “reasonable impediment” to getting a qualified ID — such as illness or the lack of transportation or a birth certificate — to fill out a form at the voting site. Their vote would count if they provided other identification, along with the last four digits on their Social Security number and their birthdate.
However, a voting rights lawyer said those changes don’t cure the inherent bias of an ID mandate. Such a requirement illegally adds requirements to the state Constitution’s qualifications for voting, said George Eppsteiner, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, representing those who sued. A disproportionate number of black people lack photo ID, he added, so the law still will result in impediments to voting that harm minorities more.
The amended law has “real impact on real voters in North Carolina and the plaintiffs would be substantially prejudiced by ending two-plus years of litigation,” Eppsteiner told Morgan.
Peters said the state believes the original photo ID law was constitutional.
The case is one of four lawsuits challenging all or parts of 2013 elections changes.
The other three filed in federal court also seek to stop provisions in the law that reduced the number of early voting days, barred same-day registration during the early-voting period and prohibited counting ballots cast on Election Day in the incorrect precinct.
These consolidated federal lawsuits went to trial last month, but the voter ID arguments were set aside for another date due to the General Assembly’s changes. The lawsuit argued Monday only targets voter ID.
Anita Earls, another Southern Coalition lawyer, said election officials have done little to alert the public about the changes passed in June, which she said creates a substantial danger to confuse voters. Nearly 3 million people who cast ballots last November were supposed to be told by election officials about the voter ID mandate — before the new exceptions.
The Southern Coalition lawyers raised the possibility that the exceptions later would be repealed by the legislature, citing a comment in an online newspaper by Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, a House Elections Committee member. But Peters said one lawmaker didn’t speak for the whole General Assembly. Lawmakers passed the exceptions in near-unanimous votes.