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October 25, 2021

After another court ruling against it, what’s next for voter ID in NC?

SALISBURY — While she voted against voter ID requirements in North Carolina in 2018, unaffiliated voter Pam Everhardt Bloom said she later obtained one to inform voters on how the process worked.

Bloom is one of relatively few people in the county with such a document, which is no longer being issued by the local board of elections after successful court rulings against the requirements.

Though she’s not against requiring voter ID, Bloom says she voted against the ballot proposal because there were no details at the time about how it would be implemented, likening it to “signing a contract without reading it.” Uncertainty like that made her question the motives and whether the law was truly fair to all voters.

“I’m not a person willing to vote to change our N.C. Constitution without an actual plan for the amendment,” Bloom said. “With no written plan and only promises to tell voters what they actually voted for after it was adopted, it immediately made me question the motives of those pushing the amendments. If it’s a good amendment, you share it with others.”

For now, educating voters on the voter ID law before they cast a ballot is a moot point partially because of a ruling from a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court on Sept. 17. The judges struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law for being “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African-American voters.”

The ruling is for the case of Holmes v. Moore, which was filed by attorneys with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in December 2018 on behalf of a handful of North Carolina voters. The case alleges the law governing voter ID requirements in North Carolina, outlined in Senate Bill 824, was racially motivated.

In the ruling, Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier Jr. wrote attorneys defending the law failed to prove it would not discriminate against African-American voters as enacted. While judges stated it wasn’t believed lawmakers supported the measure out of any hate toward African-American voters, it still targeted voters based on race who were unlikely to vote for the majority party. Therefore, the judges ruled it still constitutes racial discrimination.

“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,” the judges wrote.

The dissenting judge, Nathaniel Poovey, wrote the evidence provided didn’t support the finding that the law was crafted with “racially discriminatory intent,” citing that the law was a bipartisan one “supported along the way by multiple African-American legislators.”

Efforts to enact voter ID requirements in North Carolina date back to at least 2013 — when Rowan County Republican lawmaker Harry Warren was among the primary sponsors of House Bill 589, which ultimately became law following the signature of then-Gov. Pat McCrory. Warren’s bill ultimately was ruled too restrictive and unconstitutional by a federal court in 2016 for targeting “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Lawmakers then put a constitutional amendment proposal on the 2018 midterm election ballots, which passed with 55% of voters in support. Lawmakers reconvened during a lame-duck session to write the law governing how voter ID would work, known as S.B. 824, and passed it before new Democratic lawmakers would be sworn in and eliminated the veto-proof supermajority.

Bloom said a lack of clarity about what the law would entail and lack of transparency from elected officials led her to volunteer at polling booths to inform voters that the information wouldn’t be provided until after the vote. She then sought more clarity about the law’s implementation, including the machines assigned for making the IDs and what the educational outreach would be for voters.

Bloom now keeps her voter ID card tucked inside her wallet, but she hasn’t needed it to vote in any election since visiting the Rowan County Board of Elections in person to obtain it. Voters in Rowan County could obtain voter ID cards on May 1, 2019, but Rowan County Board of Elections Executive Director Brenda McCubbins said the state instructed counties to stop making them in December 2019. Bloom said she provided her driver’s license and it was matched with her voter registration on file, but she was concerned for voters who didn’t have a license or know whether they had another form of identification that would suffice.

“Because I have a driver’s license, I didn’t even have to think about whether I had what I needed for photo ID,” she said.

Of the 35 states with voter ID laws, 15 allow non-photo identification, including an affidavit or signature matching.

At the time, only one machine had been assigned to the county, which Bloom said was a concern since that would have required all local residents to travel to the elections office on Jake Alexander Boulevard if they needed a photo ID. That was another unnecessary barrier, she said.

Sen. Carl Ford, a Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties, said lawmakers have “done everything the courts have said to do” on photo IDs, including “coming straight to your house.” Ford earlier this year signed onto S.B. 326, the “Election Day Integrity Act,” which passed the Senate but has not been up for a vote in the House. The bill includes a provision to implement a program that would identify and assist voters in need of an acceptable photo identification. The bill would also move up the deadline to request and submit an absentee by mail ballot.

Bloom said the most recent ruling shows courts have seen enough evidence to conclude that no matter what was being said to the public, there were discussions elsewhere that intended to limit the vote. And with the instances of voter fraud in North Carolina being so rare, Bloom said it seems that lawmakers are “stirring a pot that doesn’t even exist.”

“Had the courts not ruled against, I would have worked diligently to inform voters about the process to obtain a voter ID,” Bloom said. “They shouldn’t be trying to limit the vote for anyone … We don’t need obstacles to voting. If we have voter ID and it makes sense, OK. But not if it’s an obstacle to someone voting.”

In an interview about the Sept. 17 ruling, Warren cited “blatant partisanship” because the lone Republican judge cast the dissenting opinion, adding that the 2018 law would have a “better chance for a fair assessment by the court” if there was more balanced judicial representation. Additionally, Warren said there should be less time spent “fighting a legislative fight” and more time spent “educating the general public in how it works.”

“Every lawsuit provides an opportunity to learn how we can address the issue again,” Warren added.

Warren said the issue of implementing voter ID remains a priority for members of the North Carolina House Freedom Caucus, of which he is also a member.

“People have to have confidence that (the electoral process is) fair and that it’s functional,” he said.

Data from the State Board of Elections shows 570 cases of alleged fraud were referred to prosecutors between 2015 and 2019. Only five of those cases were linked to voter impersonation. The plurality of cases were related to felon voting — 459. There were 49 cases related to double voting. In 2020, when millions of ballots were cast across the state, there were three cases of double-voting, 26 cases of felon voting and two cases of voter impersonation.

ID laws are popular among some groups, including Democrats, minority groups and those who identify as liberal, according to data from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. Though Republicans, conservatives, and white citizens are more likely to approve of such laws.

Bloom’s voter ID card isn’t set to expire until 2029, but it remains to be seen if it will be put to use before then. Since GOP lawmakers have vowed to appeal the Sept. 17 ruling, the voter ID case will likely head to the state appeals court next. But two additional lawsuits also stand in the way, including the federal case of NAACP v. Cooper, which has a trial date set in January 2022 and the state-level case of NAACP v. Moore.

In the latter, plaintiffs question whether the General Assembly had the authority to craft and place constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2018 because they argue the only reason the GOP-led legislature had the 60% supermajority needed was because of unconstitutional gerrymandering, thus making their ballot measure illegitimate. The case awaits trial in the North Carolina Supreme Court, and oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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