Whether voters will have to present photo ID during the March primary elections is up in the air. A federal judge blocked the law requiring photo ID, but on Friday, state Republican leaders filed court papers asking for an emergency stay of the judge’s ruling.
And this comes just a week after N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein said he would wait until after the March primary elections to appeal the judge’s ruling.
U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs issued a decision on Dec. 31, 2019, to grant a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s voter ID law, saying that she found compelling evidence that state Republican leaders acted with racially discriminatory intent in passing it. In a lengthy 60-page decision, Biggs said that North Carolina has a long history of racial discrimination against black people in voting, and that history cannot be separated from how this latest legislation was passed. She also argued that there’s evidence that the voter ID law would have a disproportionate impact on black voters.
In 2016, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a state elections law that not only required photo IDs but also eliminated same-day voter registration, cut the number of days for early voting and prohibited county elections officials from counting out-of-precinct ballots. The court found that Republican leaders had racially discriminatory intent in passing that law.
Soon after that decision, state Republican leaders pushed for a November 2018 referendum to change the state constitution and require voters to present voter ID. And then, Republicans passed a law, known as Senate Bill 824, that implemented the voter ID requirement. The N.C. NAACP and several local chapters, including the Winston-Salem chapter, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law.
On Friday, attorneys for House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger filed a motion asking to intervene in the lawsuit and to grant an emergency stay in Biggs’ decision. In a news release that Republicans sent out Friday, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) said, “The votes of two million citizens to amend their own Constitution to require voter ID were thrown out by one unelected Democratic judge. The legislature will fight with every tool at our disposal to reverse this lawless decision that overturns the will of the people.”
Biggs was appointed by former Democratic president Barack Obama. The news release also mentions that one of the three primary sponsors for the voter ID legislation was a black Democrat, Joel Ford. Biggs noted in her opinion that Ford had admitted in a deposition that he was considering switching political parties at the time of the bill’s drafting. Biggs also has said that many of the same Republican leaders behind the state elections law struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court also pushed for the voter ID law.
Time is ticking. Absentee voting by mail starts Monday, and early voting starts Feb. 13. The State Board of Elections has announced on its website that voters will not need a photo ID for the March primary elections.
In court papers, state Republican leaders argue that the law is “one of the most voter-friendly voter ID laws in the country” and that the “terms of S.B. 824 do not preclude a single actual or hypothetical voter from access to the franchise.”
They argue that an emergency stay should be granted while their appeal is pending on Biggs’ decision to deny their motion to intervene in the lawsuit. They also argue that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their appeal of Biggs’ decision to temporarily block the voter ID law.
Critical to their argument is the law’s allowance for a reasonable impediment. In a December hearing in federal court in Winston-Salem, attorneys for the state argued that because of the reasonable impediment, even voters who aren’t able to get a photo ID will still be able to vote.
Keeping the temporary block in place will harm the state legislators’ ability to enforce constitutionally-enacted laws, they say in court papers.
It’s not clear when Biggs will issue a decision on an emergency stay.