Rollback of Voter ID law could mean fewer hours, longer lines to vote

Chris Keane / —Reuters
An election worker checks a voter's driver’s license.

RALEIGH — The executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, Kim Strach, sent notice over the weekend to all local elections boards outlining the plan to comply with last week’s ruling from the Fourth Circuit court that stopped North Carolina’s voter ID law from taking effect. Beyond stopping the ID requirement in the law, the decision means the uniformity of state-level rules on early voting hours and locations is gone, putting decisions back into the hands of the 100 county boards, each of which can have varying policies. With just 80 days until early voting starts for the November elections, the N.C. General Assembly leaders were quick to respond to Friday’s ruling saying they will appeal, pointing out that a photo ID is required to board an airplane, enter federal buildings and cash a check. Many legal experts expect the state Voter Identification Verification Act (VIVA) to eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.”Since today’s decision by three partisan Democrats ignores legal precedent, ignores the fact that other federal courts have used North Carolina’s law as a model, and ignores the fact that a majority of other states have similar protections in place, we can only wonder if the intent is to reopen the door for voter fraud, potentially allowing fellow Democrat politicians like Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper to steal the election,” N.C. Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said in a joint statement Friday. “We will obviously be appealing this politically motivated decision to the Supreme Court.”While the two sides fight it out in courtrooms, the State Board of Elections is tasked with setting out compliance and contingency plans. As boards double-back to comply, election law experts say future conflicts will likely arise as the 100 counties return to their own plans for available voting hours and locations. According to Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, it is possible that rolling back the voter ID law could actually mean fewer voting hours because it puts the 2012 laws back into effect. Those laws do not require the same number of early voting hours as in 2014 and 2012. While the in-person early voting period will go from 10 days back to 17, how many locations are open and when is completely up to local election boards.”It changes the entire dynamic,” said Lawson. “There are no longer hour-matching requirements. Under the statute [VIVA] we had to fit as much, hours-wise, into 10 days as we had in 17, unless you applied for a wavier.”The other problem election authorities face is setting the poll schedule for 2016 while taking into consideration that poll hours and costs will likely remain the same for 2018 and subsequent elections, when there is not the interest and turnout of a presidential cycle. Setting up that local voting infrastructure while trying to prepare for any future court action is no small task for election workers statewide, particularly when they’ve been working toward getting voters ready to show ID at the polls. The ID law was in effect for the March and June primaries. “Photo ID has had a longer runway, three years, than it has in other states. We’ve had a long time to get the word out, establish detailed plans, website and information sheets,” said Lawson. “Our job is to enforce the state law as it stands, but we have to do that now knowing that it could change on appeal.” The lawsuit that rolled back the Voter Information Verification Act, passed in 2013, was brought by the North Carolina NAACP, two Baptist churches, and other groups. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder upheld the law in April, but the groups appealed to the Fourth Circuit court, which said the Voter ID law is a conscious effort by General Assembly Republicans to limit minority access to the polls. Schroeder then issued an injunction of the law on Friday. In the meantime, Strach advised local officials to submit their plans for a 10-day early voting period with matching hours requirements and to hold onto any preregistration applications for 16- and 17-year-olds. She advised them that, should the order remain in effect, the 2012 voter laws will resume: early voting will be for 17 days with no requirement to match the number of hours, one-stop voter registration and voting will be available during early voting, and out-of-precinct ballots and registration will be accepted. “Barring a different outcome on appeal, photo ID will not be required in the upcoming general election. Further details will be posted as they become available,” Strach’s email read.