New voter ID law challenged in court

FILE PHOTO: A voter peels off an "I Voted" sticker after voting in North Carolina's U.S. presidential primary election at Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo

RALEIGH — The North Carolina law detailing a new voter photo identification requirement got challenged in court Wednesday mere moments after the Republican-led General Assembly completed the override of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the measure.

Six voters filed the lawsuit in Wake County court less than 15 minutes after the state House finished the override in a mostly party-line 72-40 vote. The Senate already voted to override Tuesday.

The photo ID law implements a constitutional amendment approved in a referendum last month that mandates photo identification to vote in person, with exceptions allowed. Still, the plaintiffs contend the law violates the state constitution and should be blocked, saying it retains requirements within a 2013 photo ID law that federal judges struck down.

The voters — five black residents and one described as biracial — say the restrictions will harm African-American and American Indian residents disproportionately and unduly burden the right to vote. It also creates a financial cost to voting in the form of lost work times and the need to secure transportation to obtain an ID, the lawsuit said.

“The General Assembly has simply reproduced the court-identified racially discriminatory intent it manifested a mere five years ago when it enacted a very similar voter ID requirement,” according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Some of the attorneys work for an organization that helped challenge the 2013 law. That litigation took nearly four years to resolve.

Before and after the lawsuit was filed Wednesday, Republican lawmakers said the implementing legislation carries out what 55 percent of voters who supported the referendum in November wanted. GOP legislators rejected Cooper’s veto message that the bill was a “sinister and cynical” attempt to suppress the voting rights of minorities, the poor and the elderly. Rather, they said, it was designed to discourage voter fraud and increase the public’s confidence in elections.

“You have betrayed the majority of the hard-working, honest people of North Carolina who put this provision into our constitution,” Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, referring to Cooper. “You should hang your head in shame.”

The measure expands the number of qualifying IDs that could be used when voting compared to the 2013 law, including the creation of a new free voter photo card produced by county elections board.

Student IDs for public and private colleges and universities and community colleges, as well as employee ID cards for state and local governments, would now qualify if they meet certain security thresholds. People having trouble obtaining an ID could fill out forms at the polling site, and their ballots likely would be counted, too, supporters said. The law also directs state election officials to determine how to comply the ID rules to people seeking to vote with mail-in absentee ballots.

House Democrats said the measure is inherently unfair and responds to incidences of confirmed voter impersonation that are few to non-existent.

“The only reason that you can give (for the law) is to suppress the vote,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham County Democrat and civil rights activist during the 1950s and 1960s. The 88-year-old Michaux is retiring from the House this month after 40 years.

The law would largely take effect when municipal elections occur next fall. Wednesday’s lawsuit also asks that a three-judge panel of state judges prevent the law from being enforced during the litigation. Any appeals would go to the state Supreme Court.