Primary election voting

Voters cast ballots at Celia Phelps United Methodist Church during the North Carolina primary election in Greensboro on March 3. A GOP drive to get a photo ID requirement for the November election is likely a long shot.

RALEIGH — North Carolina Republican legislative leaders are trying to reinstate the implementation of a voter photo identification requirement.

Attorneys for the GOP legislators have filed a motion asking trial court judges to lift an order that blocked enforcement of a 2018 state law that laid out the rules for voter photo ID while a state lawsuit filed by voters goes to trial. That law came swiftly after voters added an ID requirement to the state constitution in November 2018.

Even if the motion filed Thursday is granted, a photo ID requirement for the November election still appears to be a long shot. Such a decision likely would be appealed. Two other voter ID lawsuits are pending, and a federal judge in December 2019 also blocked the voter ID implementation.

“It is past time for activist courts to stop blocking another common-sense elections policy that is required by North Carolina’s constitution and a strong majority of other states,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a defendant in the state lawsuit, said in a news release.

In February, a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals reversed the Wake County court’s decision not to issue a preliminary injunction to block parts of the law. In their decision, the appellate judges pointed in part to the absence of public-assistance identification cards from a list of qualifying IDs as evidence the 2018 law remained flawed by “discriminatory intent.” It was also absent from a 2013 voter ID law that a federal court ultimately struck down.

So when the General Assembly passed a law last month addressing the fall elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators inserted a provision that would add public-assistance cards to the qualifying list should the voter ID mandate get enforced.

Lawyers writing Thursday’s motion said the voter ID law now included nearly every legislative proposal designed to “ameliorate” portions of the requirement that critics argue could harm Black voters disproportionately.

“Now that the Court of Appeals’ principal concern with (the law) has been remedied, equity demands that the preliminary injunction in this case be dissolved,” the attorneys wrote.

Some legislative Democrats have said the public-assistance ID provision is worthless because such cards usually don’t require a photo. The broader COVID-19 absentee ballot bill containing the provision was approved overwhelmingly and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, an opponent of photo voter ID.

Thirty-five states have laws currently in force requesting or requiring some kind of identification be shown at the polls, with about half of them asking for a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

North Carolina Republicans have pressed for photo ID for the past 10 years, saying it will build confidence in elections. Many legislative Democrats see the ID requirement as unnecessary or a tool for voter suppression, especially of minorities and the poor.

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