Legality of new voter ID mandate argued in federal trial

Posted January 25, 2016

— North Carolina's new voter identification mandate, which starts with the March primary, is on trial in federal court in Winston-Salem this week.

The U.S. Justice Department, the state NAACP and several North Carolina residents contend the requirement to show photo ID to vote in person is illegal and will make it harder for black and Latino residents to cast ballots.

Rosanell Eaton, 94, of Louisburg, has been voting for more than 70 years, but she didn't have a valid driver's license when state lawmakers passed the voter ID law in 2013. She said it took her more than 100 miles of travel and about 60 hours of work to get one because her name was spelled differently on different forms of ID.

"It took her 10 trips," attorney Penda Hair said of Eaton, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "She had to go to the (Division of Motor Vehicles office) in her own county. Then she went to a Social Security office in Henderson. Then she went to the Social Security office in Raleigh, and all the people were telling her they couldn’t help her, they couldn’t fix the problem."

Hair said Eaton’s case isn’t unique. People who don’t have a driver's license are disproportionately black or Latino, most are low-income or elderly and many live in rural counties that don’t even have a DMV branch, she said. They may have to find the time and the money to travel up to 60 miles just to get a voter ID, she said.

"For other folks who have to face this kind of barrier, they may give up and not get the ID," Hair said.

Scotland Neck resident Alonzo Philip testified via video that he had been denied a driver's license by the state a decade ago because his name was misspelled on his birth certificate from New York. With no job, no income and no car, he said he had given up on the idea of returning to New York to fix the problem, and he's never needed a photo ID in North Carolina.

"I want to vote. Without an ID, I won’t be able to vote," Philip said.

The state's lawyers say there's no evidence anyone will be denied the chance to vote under the rules.

They told U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder that changes to the law that lawmakers passed last year will allow voters without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot if they swear to having a reasonable impediment to getting one – anything from work hours to lack of transportation to family duties.

Barry Burden, a demographics expert from the University of Wisconsin, said many voters who could take advantage of that loophole probably aren't aware of it. The state has told voters for the last three years that they will need an ID to vote as of this year, but the voters haven’t been told about the new exceptions, and they might not head to the polls to find out, he said.

"They might believe they’re ineligible to vote," Burden said. "That might deter them from trying to vote in the first place, or (they think) the process will take so long they won’t vote."

The plaintiffs want the judge to throw out the law entirely, arguing that the state hasn’t set up rules for the exceptions. County officials could just throw those ballots out, they said.

Attorney Michael Glick added that the law still unjustly burdens minority voters for no reason, saying there is no evidence that in-person voter fraud is a problem in North Carolina.

"The defendants are sort of throwing up their hands and saying, ‘You know, we gave you this new process. Why can’t people just fill out the form? Why can’t they just say, 'Oh, we have a reasonable impediment?’'" Glick said. "We think that’s the wrong question to ask in a case like this. The question we would ask is, why have these hoops in place in the first place? Especially when it’s imposed on a protected class of citizens that the law has recognized."


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  • Greg Klayton Jan 27, 2016
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    All excellent points. Thank you.

  • Matt Nickeson Jan 26, 2016
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    There is no right to vote. An argument can certainly be made that it should be but it is not.
    How, exactly, can you prove voter fraud, besides dead people voting, when there is no way to verify the identity of the person casting the ballot. A problem doesn't exist because you can't measure it accurately even though strong anecdotal and first person accounts point to significant issues with people casting multiple votes in different peoples names? Who is being denied? Can you find even ONE person who will be denied a vote? Just ONE? Show us ONE SINGLE person who will be denied! The NAACP can't find one, that is why there are no individuals brought forth in the legal proceedings.

  • Paul Stroud Jan 26, 2016
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    Can ANY one of you point to the problem in NC that requires voter ID? Can you point us to the massive problem that caused this?

    You cannot, in fact, when studied, it came back as significantly non-existent:

    A 10-year 'death audit' in North Carolina turned up a grand total of 50 instances in which a vote may have been attributed to a deceased person, most likely due to errors made by precinct workers.

    Google that paragraph and you will find the relevant article.

    The real problem is, we are denying people the right to vote, to solve a problem that doesn't exist, and to deny the right to vote to those less fortunate.

  • Margaret Bartholomew Jan 25, 2016
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    Why did House Majority leader Mike Turzai say this back in 2012? "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done," he said to applause at a Republican State Committee if it was not part of the Republican strategy. Check it out on youtube. The law was struck down in 2014 by a state judge.

  • Janet Ghumri Jan 25, 2016
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    Let's just dip into the good old state budget and get ourselves a mobile DMV truck (like the blood mobiles and book mobiles).

    If the REAL issue is getting ID's for the "dsportionate AA/ Latino" citizens, we can tidy that right on up. I even think it would be more cost effective than the exorbitant attorneys fees that will be shelled out to fight it. Then everyone would be happy, happy

  • James Grimes Jr. Jan 25, 2016
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    If her documents had her name spelled wrong, she should have had them fixed a long time ago. Her issues with getting her ID are on her.

  • Greg Klayton Jan 25, 2016
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    "Reciting the Constitution?" Not a bad idea. Better than shredding it like Obama and the rest of the Dems.

  • Clarence Drumgoole Jan 25, 2016
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    Redrawing voting district lines, voter ID, what next? Reciting the Constitution? Remember where we came from. All this talk about taking the Country back is literal, take you back to where you could not vote.

  • Greg Klayton Jan 25, 2016
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    It's funny how getting a photo id for voting is " a burden on the poor", but the poor somehow manage to get a photo id for food stamps, unemployment benefits, the ACA and a host of other entitlements, they miraculously have no trouble getting one. The entire argument of "burden on the poor" is a complete sham.

  • Greg Klayton Jan 25, 2016
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    "Republicans are no American, they are not supportive of citizen's rights, unless you are a gun hugger, and they are actively working to alter the laws to make it easier to win at the polls. Which makes them criminals."

    All of the above is true when the Democrats are in power. The Democrat front-runner Hillary is a criminal, she just hasn't been indicted yet. Bill Clinton, like Bill Cosby, is a sex offender. But because of their wealth and power they will never see the inside of a jail.