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North Carolina GOP Legislators Make Late Pitch To Keep Photo ID

Photo: A Massachusetts voting station sign
Katri Niemi

North Carolina Republican lawmakers made a last-minute plea on Friday to a federal judge as they seek to save a photo identification requirement to vote that had been set to begin with the March primary.

The GOP legislative leaders already have been turned away by U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs from entering the lawsuit that the NAACP filed against other state officials to challenge the December 2018 law. They're again seeking to intervene while asking Biggs to suspend her decision last week that prevents the photo ID mandate from being implemented for the time being.

Biggs wrote Dec. 31 that the new voter ID rules still contained the racially discriminatory taint of several sections of a 2013 voting law that a federal appeals court declared unconstitutional in 2016. That 2013 law required photo ID but also scaled back early in-person voting. Republicans have controlled the General Assembly since 2011.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat whose office is defending the voter ID law, will appeal Biggs' decision to issue an injunction, but not in time to address the March 3 primary. His office said doing otherwise it would cause confusion. Republican lawmakers are unhappy with his timeline, leading to Friday's filing.

The "proposed intervenors must step in and seek to protect the state’s interest in having its laws enforced," lawyers for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger wrote Biggs in asking for an emergency stay on her preliminary injunction.

The State Board of Elections already has announced photo ID won't be needed in primary voting, which essentially begins next week as county election boards begin mailing absentee ballots to those requesting them. The photo ID law, approved weeks after a November 2018 statewide referendum passed enshrining voter ID in the state constitution, also directs mail-in voters to provide a qualifying ID in most cases.

Attorneys for Berger and Moore disagree with Biggs' ruling that the 2018 rules are still tainted by racial bias, saying one of the law's primary sponsors was a black Democrat and that “the new voter ID regulations are one of the most voter-friendly" in the country. The law directed county elections boards to create free photo IDs and a way for people who still lack one to fill out a form to vote anyway.

The GOP's lawyers wrote that Biggs wrongly “flipped the burden of proof” by requiring state lawyers to show that any taint of bias from the 2013 law had been purged from the 2018 law.

The NAACP groups who sued “have failed to identify a single voter — real or hypothetical — who will not be able to vote” under the new law, the GOP lawyers said in saying Biggs' injunction places irreparable harm upon Moore and Berger.

More than 30 states require some form of voter ID. While supporters of the photo ID mandate say it builds confidence in election results, data show voter impersonation is rare. Who can or can't vote is particularly important in a closely divided presidential battleground state like North Carolina, where African Americans amount to 22% of the registered voters.

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