North Carolina judges strike down voter ID law over racial discrimination

North Carolina judges strike down voter ID law over racial discrimination
Minority voters more likely to ‘face greater hurdles’ to obtain eligible form of ID to cast a ballot, judges rule

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina wrote an unconstitutional voter ID law that discriminates against the state’s Black voters, according to two judges on a three-judge panel agreeing to strike down the measure.

The law, which was enacted in 2018 and has faced a flurry of legal challenges, was “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters,” according to state Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier.

“Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence,” they said in the 100-page opinion issued on 17 September, which followed a trial in April.

The judges said that they did not necessarily believe Republicans who supported the measure were intentionally racist, but agreed that the GOP targeted “voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party.”

“Even if done for partisan ends, that constitute[s] racial discrimination,” according to the opinion.

The ruling follows a 2013 attempt among Republican lawmakers to install another voter ID law that was also struck down as unconstitutional three years later. A 2016 court ruling found that GOP lawmakers targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision” with their legislation.

North Carolina voters supported a constitutional amendment to require ID at the polls, and the law was enacted by a Republican supermajority in the state legislature following a veto override by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

The law defines valid voter ID as a state driver’s licence or state-issued ID or US passport.

But thousands of voters in the state lacked ID that would allow them to legally cast a ballot, according to a 2015 analysis cited by the judges.

That report found that nearly 10 per cent of Black voters lacked eligible ID, compared to 4.5 per cent of white voters.

Judges determined that because the state’s Black voters are more likely to live in poverty than white voters, they are also more likely to “face greater hurdles” in obtaining an eligible form of ID to vote.

Similar arguments have been made across the US as GOP lawmakers – who have tried for decades to implement strict voter ID requirements – revived restrictive voting legislation in 2021 in the wake of 2020 elections and baseless narratives about voter fraud, which is rare to nonexistent.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law estimates as many as 11 per cent of eligible voters do not have ID as required by their respective states to cast a ballot.

In their latest attempt to expand voting rights in the face of state-level GOP legislation undermining access to the polls, congressional Democrats – in an effort to appease skeptical centrists and Republican Senators – have introduced a proposal with nationwide voter ID standards, allowing voters to “present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form.”

The North Carolina law is also the subject of a federal lawsuit, set for a trial in 2022.