RALEIGH — A challenge to North Carolina’s new voter identification requirement will go to trial in state court this fall setting the stage for a possible decision before early in-person voting begins for the big November election.
Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan on Monday set Sept. 26 for the trial, which could last a week or two. Morgan asked lawyers in a Wake County courtroom to confirm the Oct. 27 start date for early voting, when perspective voters must show one of several forms of photo ID. A two-week trial would give Morgan less than three weeks to rule.
The ID mandate was approved in 2013 and used for the first time in the March primary and again in the June congressional primary.
The case is separate from federal lawsuits challenging the photo ID requirement and other voting changes by the General Assembly. A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments last month on whether a lower court decision upholding all the changes should stand.
A ruling in that appeal could come soon, but Morgan said he can’t make his decisions based on what other courts may do.
“I’ll stay in my lane. I don’t know what else is going to be done by any other entities or persons,” Morgan said from the bench. “I will move this matter forward as expeditiously as possible.”
Morgan set a date even though attorneys for the state have argued it was too late to hold a trial this fall. They’ve said a pre-election ruling could upset the training and planning process for voter ID in a presidential election year. The lawyers also contend the case should be transferred to a three-judge state panel or that an appeal at the Court of Appeals should be heard first.
Proceedings in the state lawsuit already were delayed while voter ID was implemented in March with a supplemental law allowing people who had trouble obtaining a qualified ID to fill out a form and provide other information so their vote would still count.
The state lawsuit makes different claims than the federal lawsuit, which focuses on the U.S. Voting Rights Act, said Anita Earls, the lead attorney in the state case for voters and voting-rights groups who filed originally in August 2013.
The state case focuses on whether the ID requirement is another qualification to vote beyond what is set in the North Carolina Constitution. The plaintiffs’ amended lawsuit filed in April argues the mandate intentionally discriminates against black and American Indian voters at disproportionate rates.
State attorneys have said voter ID is a legal extension of voter registration rules to ensure the person seeking to vote is actually the person listed in voter rolls.