Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County judge will have to decide whether changes enacted this summer to soften North Carolina's voter ID requirement should end a lawsuit that claims the state's voting law violates the state constitution.
Lawyers for the state and plaintiffs in the case, which include the League of Women Voters, squared off before Judge Michael Morgan Monday morning in Wake County Superior Court.
"The statute the plaintiffs are challenging is no longer the statute that is on the books," said Alec Peters, a special deputy attorney general in the North Carolina Attorney General's office.
Pointing to a loophole lawmakers created this summer for those who don't have photo identification, Peters said, "There can be no doubt it has been substantially amended in a way that has a direct impact on the plaintiffs' claims."
He argued that, if the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs wanted to continue the case, they should have to file a new lawsuit.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs said the adjustments made in June don't address their concerns and that they would be making the same arguments about the now-amended law they've been making all along.
"The amended law is not a repeal of the photo ID requirement," said Anita Earls, a lawyer and executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Earls said the voter ID requirement would still prove an impediment to voting, despite the adjustments.
Lawmakers passed the voter ID requirement in 2013 along with a broader package of election changes. As initially passed, the law contained only a handful of reasons, such as a religious objection, that someone would be able to vote if he or she did not show a photo ID.
The legislation also mapped out ways in which voters who could not afford a photo ID could get a free one from the state.
But similar laws faced challenges in other states, and in June, the North Carolina House and Senate pushed through an amendment to the voter ID requirement. It gives voters the option to sign an affidavit that says they have a "reasonable impediment" to getting a voter ID, such as not being able to track down a birth certificate or being unable to take off time to go to the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Peters argued that new loophole essentially gave everyone a way to vote.
But Earls pointed out that those signing such an affidavit would be voting provisional ballots, which would be counted only if the local board of elections found the "reasonable impediment" listed by the voter to be valid. She also pointed to months of education and outreach by the State Board of Elections that did not mention the "reasonable impediment" exception. For example, more than 3 million voters have participated in elections, she said, during which they were informed about the voter ID requirement but not the ability to opt out due to a reasonable impediment.
That material is now online the State Board of Elections' website.
Morgan asked Earls if she wasn't relying on "speculation beyond this court's control" and if there wasn't enough time to get the word out about the new loophole.
Earls insisted the case should continue, pointing to statements by voter ID hard-liners, including Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, who say they would like to repeal the reasonable impediment language.
Morgan said that it would likely take him weeks before ruling in the case.