Top plaintiff heard in trial on Voter ID

Top plaintiff heard in trial on Voter ID
January 28
00:00 2016
A federal trail on the state’s new voter ID requirement is happening this week at the Federal Building in downtown Winston-Salem.

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

Both sides of the N.C. NAACP vs. McCrory trial returned to Winston-Salem on Monday as arguments began over North Carolina’s controversial new photo ID requirement for voters.

For three weeks last July, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder heard the case in a trial that focused on other aspects of the state’s controversial voting reform law, including the elimination of same-day registration, out-of- precinct voting, and pre-registration for teens. The main argument of the plaintiffs against a new photo ID requirement that will go into effect for the first time this year, was delayed after the General Assembly altered the law to allow for exemptions for voters who have a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID.

Even with the change in the law, attorneys for the NAACP and the U.S. Justice Department returned to the courtroom to argue that a photo ID requirement intentionally places a discriminatory burden on minorities. Attorney Michael Glick said the lawmakers knew that African-Americans and Latinos where less likely to have photo IDs when they passed the legislation.

“It means the ID requirement falls unequally on a protected class of citizens,” said Glick during opening arguments.

He said that changes to voting laws in recent years have been playing a “game of whack-a-mole” with a fundamental right without any valid interest to do so. He said there’s been no proof of in-person voter fraud and that makes the ID requirement a “solution in search of a problem.”

Attorney Tom Farr, who represents the state, disputed the amount of minorities who don’t have photo IDs, saying that it was a “very, very small group” in his opening argument. He said that the process to meet voter eligibility is no worse than the process to qualify for things like Social Security benefits.

Videotaped testimony of the NAACP’s lead plaintiff, Rosanell Eaton, spoke to the difficulties some have in getting a photo ID. The 94-year-old Franklin County resident talked about long drives and long waits, including an hour-and-43-minute wait at a Social Security office to get her driver’s license. Eaton had to change her name on her birth certificate and Social Security card before she could get a driver’s license, which required 10 trips over a 27-day span in January 2015.

“It’s a lot of headache, a lot of expensive trouble,” said Eaton, who’s been voting for 70 years.

Expert witnesses were also called by the plaintiffs. Barry Burden a political science professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, testified that not only are blacks and Hispanics less likely to have  photo IDs, they are also more likely to have fewer resources to acquire one.

Charles Stewart, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified Tuesday that African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to lack the photo ID now required of voters. Farr questioned the accuracy of Stewart’s numbers on cross examination. He also pointed out that Stewart’s own research shows that about 95 percent of registered African-Americans have a photo ID, but Stewart said the number of blacks without one still remains disproportionate to whites.

With the reasonable impediment exception, voters like Eaton might be able to vote without going through a long ordeal to get a license, but would still need to fill out a form on why they can’t get an ID. N.C. NAACP President Dr. William Barber testified Tuesday on the confusion caused by the reasonable impediment and how it’s making groups like the NAACP re-educate voters again.

Judge Schroeder is giving each side 18 hours to argue their cases, which is expected to take the rest of the week. He’s already denied an injunction that would’ve prevented the law from going into effect. He also has yet to rule on the arguments he heard in July on the other challenges to the voting law. Due to a Supreme Court decision, same day registration during early voting and out of precinct voting on election day have been reinstated until a ruling is made.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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