The law, which requires voters to show photo identification when casting a ballot and was passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2013, began trial on Jan. 25 in Winston-Salem. It is being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and the N.C. NAACP, which argue it disenfranchises minority voters.
Jeff Nieman, an assistant district attorney who testified in the trial Wednesday on behalf of the DOJ, said driver’s licenses — the most common forms of ID — are hard to obtain and are revoked disproportionately for African-Americans.
He said most licenses are revoked for financial reasons rather than driving violations, such as an inability to pay outstanding tickets or cover the cost of car inspections. Nieman said although Orange County is only about 12.5 percent African-American, 50 percent of revoked licenses are from African-Americans.
Adam Stein, a civil rights attorney representing the N.C. NAACP, said the requirement burdens voters without any justification — about twice as much for African-Americans than for whites.
He said it is a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th amendments, especially since there have been no reported cases of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina in the past decade. Stein said there were only a couple of referrals out of millions from the district attorney.
“It is the fiftieth year of the Voting Rights Act, and they are going in the wrong direction — instead of expanding the franchise, they are eliminating the people who can vote,” he said.
N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said he is opposed to the current voter ID legislative efforts.
“I would like to see us working on bills that would make it easier to vote right now,” he said. “Instead we are litigating state money that makes it harder to vote.”
But Susan Myrick, elections policy analyst for N.C. Civitas Institute, a conservative think-tank, said the law does not disenfranchise voters.
“An overwhelming majority of people already have a form of identification that is required,” Myrick said.
She said an amendment to the voter identification law prevents disenfranchisement because it allows for other forms of identification like birth dates and the last four digits of a social security number.
“Hardly anything is required here. If you don’t have an ID, you just have to sign a form,” she said.
She said at least 30 states already have voter ID laws, many of them more stringent than the one proposed for North Carolina.
“There won’t be much of an effect nationwide,” she said. “It is the beginning of the system, of the way it is going to be.”
Both parties are currently in the process of submitting post-trial materials for the judge to consider.
Stein said he is unsure of when a decision will be announced, but he expects a decision before March or possibly later.
“Ultimately, if we win this case — if the courts decide that there has been a violation of the Voting Rights Act or the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, or both, it would provide the basis for challenges to other voting practices in other places,” he said.