RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A trial over North Carolina’s voter ID law began Monday that could have an impact on when voters ultimately will be required to show a photo ID to vote.
In 2018, voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution requiring photo ID, but the law enabling that has been on hold following lawsuits filed in state and federal courts.
“This case is, of course, about intentional racial discrimination. During trial, we will prove that North Carolina passed a law to keep Black voters from voting,” said Allison Riggs, an attorney and co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Riggs said during the trial in Wake County Superior Court, which is scheduled to last two weeks, she’ll call expert witnesses who will show that Black voters are more likely than white voters to lack identification needed to comply with state law.
David Thompson, an attorney representing Republican leaders in the General Assembly, acknowledged the state’s history of discriminatory laws but said that does not show the most recent law was also passed with discriminatory intent.
“We don’t dispute that North Carolina’s history has been marred shamefully by historical acts of discrimination,” he said. “Past discrimination cannot in the manner of original sin condemn governmental action that is not itself unlawful.”
The law passed in 2018 a few weeks after voters approved the Constitutional amendment by a 55-45 margin.
At the time, Republicans still held a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly but were weeks away from a new session beginning when more Democrats would take office and the supermajority would no longer exist.
Riggs also called attention to a previous state election law passed a few years earlier, which federal judges later struck down as unconstitutional saying its “new provisions target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Republicans have long said a voter ID law is needed to bolster security and confidence in elections, though incidents of in-person voter fraud have been rare.
“The mountain of circumstantial evidence is so overwhelming, that no alleged neutral justifications can overcome that mountain,” said Riggs. “Plaintiffs don’t need smoking gun evidence. That almost never exists anymore.”
Thompson pointed out under an analysis submitted to the court, about 95 percent of white voters have an ID that complies with the law compared to about 93 percent of Black voters.
Thompson said as Republicans crafted the latest voter ID law, they reached out to Democrats for input and incorporated several changes that they wanted into the bill that ultimately passed. He also noted that one of the bill’s cosponsors was former Democratic Sen. Joel Ford, who is Black.
“There were 24 changes that were made to the bill based on discussions with Democrats and other interested parties,” he said. “They extended their hand across the aisle and worked with Democrats.”
He also read some of the statements Democratic members of the House and Senate made as each chamber voted on the bill, where they acknowledged that Republicans did seek their input.
“Democrats wouldn’t have been thanking Republicans like this if this were a law that had been weaponized against them to entrench their political power,” Thompson said.
He also noted since the law passed that the General Assembly has allowed additional IDs to qualify.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states require some form of ID to vote, though not all of those require a photo ID. Six states have what’s described as a “strict” photo ID law, while 12 more have “non-strict” photo ID laws. The NCSL classifies North Carolina’s law as “non-strict.”
The trial is scheduled to last for two weeks. At some point after that, the three-judge panel overseeing the case will issue a ruling. There’s also a related case moving through federal courts as well.