RALEIGH — The federal government and others who sued to overturn North Carolina’s voter identification law told the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday that keeping the photo ID mandate and other rules in place for the November elections would harm black voters and increase confusion.
Their lawyers also want early in-person voting restored to 17 days in the fall election season because the 2013 law, which had reduced it to 10 days, was struck down justifiably for racial discrimination. They were responding to last week’s request by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials to delay a ruling by a lower appeals court striking down several sections of the law.
Last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Republican-led General Assembly enacted the 2013 law with intentional discrimination in mind by targeting black voters more likely to support Democrats.
“Once an electoral law has been found to be racially discriminatory, and injunctive relief has been found to be necessary to remedy that discrimination, the normal rule is that the operation of the law must be suspended,” wrote Ian Heath Gershengorn, the acting U.S. solicitor general. He warned that failing to suspend the law “would inflict irreparable injury on minority voters.”
State officials disagree. If the state’s delay request is successful, the voter ID requirement would be enforced and early voting would remain covering 10 days in North Carolina, a presidential battleground state. The delay is needed, the attorneys for the state argue, while they ask justices to consider weighing legal issues in the case.
State officials wrote Aug. 15 that orders to revert to old election rules before the 2013 law would make it difficult for both voters and election officials entering the election season, which also includes races for governor and U.S. Senate. The voter ID requirement already was used in this year’s primary elections. Ten days of early voting began earlier.
In two filings Thursday, the plaintiffs wrote that more trouble for voters would come by keeping the 2013 law’s requirement in place, especially since election officials are already re-arranging voting plans based on the result of the 4th Circuit decision July 29.
Elections boards in all 100 counties have been ordered to approve new 17-day schedules for early voting sites and hours. The State Board of Elections held a training conference recently to plan for the adjustments. And a state-mandated voter guide getting mailed to 4 million households soon has been changed to remind people a qualifying ID no longer will be necessary to vote, according to a filing for the state NAACP, League of Women Voters and other groups and registered voters who sued.
“The state has already taken a number of critical remedial steps to implement the 4th Circuit’s decision,” the groups’ lawyers wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who receives such appeals for North Carolina matters, had asked for a response from the plaintiffs’ lawyers by Thursday afternoon. Outside lawyers for the state could yet file another brief countering Thursday’s arguments. A ruling date is unknown.
Legislative leaders and McCrory, who is seeking re-election this fall, have said the 4th Circuit decision was wrong. McCrory has said voter ID is a common sense requirement to increase the integrity of elections. The appeals court judges pointed out the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address. A trial court judge in April had upheld the 2013 law.
The office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat challenging McCrory in November, is no longer helping defend the voter ID law after the 4th Circuit decision.