After a decade of false starts — and millions of dollars spent fighting over the issue at the ballot box and in the courtroom — North Carolina voters are now required to show photo identification to cast a ballot in person.
The new voter ID requirement is a victory for conservatives. They’ve pushed for stricter voting laws, saying rules like voter ID are needed to improve voters’ faith that elections aren’t being rigged. Such concerns have skyrocketed among Republicans in recent years due to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
It’s also a setback for progressives and civil rights activists. They say the law isn’t actually intended to fight voter fraud, which is rare already. Instead, they say, it’s being put in place to make voting harder for poor people, minorities and college students — all of whom tend to support Democrats.
“Five years ago, North Carolinians made it clear that they supported enshrining in our constitution a requirement to show a photo ID to vote,” said Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, a chairman of the state senate’s election law committee. “Since then, far-left activists and their allies in the executive branch have tried everything to stop this commonsense measure from becoming a reality.”
North Carolina’s first attempt at voter ID, in 2013, was ruled unconstitutional — one piece of a broad set of election law changes that federal courts found Republican lawmakers had written to intentionally discriminate against Black voters.
State lawmakers tried again in 2018, as Newton referenced, asking voters to add an ID requirement to the state constitution. Voters agreed, and the voter ID amendment passed in 2018 with 55% support. But it had been held up in court. Then, earlier this year, the North Carolina Supreme Court signed off on voter ID, reversing the court’s own decision from just a few months prior that had found voter ID to be racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
That judicial flip-flop coincided with the elected Supreme Court’s majority shifting from Democrats to Republicans. It allowed voter ID rules to go into place starting Thursday, when the first city council races of 2023 began….
Although Republicans have now won the main state-level lawsuit against voter ID, there’s still a federal lawsuit moving forward, filed by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. And more could be filed if problems arise now that voter ID is actually being used.
Irving Joyner, a professor at North Carolina Central University’s law school and longtime NAACP attorney, said they’re hoping to see things move faster in their federal lawsuit now that the 2024 elections are imminent. The two sides are currently fighting over what evidence should be allowed at trial, but court records indicate that a ruling should be made soon.
Once that’s settled, the next fight could be over when to hold the trial — a consequential decision. If the NAACP wins and voter ID is ruled unconstitutional yet again, it would matter a great deal whether that ruling comes before or after next November’s presidential election.
“We have sought to provide the judge with a schedule that will get us into trial in the early part of 2024 to give the judge plenty of time to consider the evidence that we are presenting,” Joyner said. “… But you never know. The state is trying to string it along, out until after the 2024 election.”