Politics

With Lawsuit Looming, North Carolina Scrambles To Loosen Voter ID Rules

CREDIT: AP

Just weeks ahead of a major court case from civil rights groups challenging North Carolina’s voting restrictions, state legislators passed a bill Thursday easing the controversial voter ID provision.

If Governor Pat McCrory signs the new bill, voters who lack the an ID will still be able to cast a ballot, but only if they sign an affidavit swearing they fall into one of the acceptable categories of reasons they couldn’t obtain a government photo ID: a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, a lack of a birth certificate or other documents to obtain a photo ID, work schedules or family responsibilities. The voter would also need to present an “alternate form of identification,” the last four digits of their Social Security number, and their date of birth.

Yet the voter ID provision — which does not allow for the use of student IDs — is just one piece of the sweeping voting law overhaul that the state passed just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a cornerstone of the Voting Rights Act. The law also eliminated same-day voter registration, cut a full week of early voting, barred voters from casting a ballot outside their home precinct, ended straight-ticket voting, and scrapped a program to pre-register high school students who would turn 18 by Election Day.

“We are pleased that the legislature has taken steps to make North Carolina’s voter ID requirement less onerous than originally designed, said Bob Phillips with Common Cause North Carolina, while noting that he and others are “still deeply concerned about voting barriers created by the sweeping 2013 elections overhaul.”

On July 13, voting rights advocates led by the NAACP will argue before a court in Winston-Salem, North Carolina that the law unconstitutionally burdens voters of color and low income voters, who disproportionately lack the required forms of ID. They also plan to hold a march and rally under the banner “This is our Selma” — linking their current struggle to the demonstrations in 1965 that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Arguing that race-based voter suppression is not a thing of the past, the plaintiffs are citing a new investigation by the organization Democracy North Carolina found that the state’s restrictions depressed voter turnout by at least 30,000 North Carolinians in the 2014 midterm elections. They also found that Africans Americans were more likely to be given a provisional ballot, thousands of which were rejected and not counted.

Separately, voting rights advocates have accused the state of violating its legal obligation to provide voter registration forms to low-income residents when they apply for for food stamps, housing subsidies or other public assistance.