North Carolina’s voter ID law heads to trial

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Opponents of a law requiring North Carolina voters to show certain forms of photo identification at the polls will ask a federal judge on Monday to strike it down on the grounds that it makes casting a ballot harder for minorities.

The trial is the first of several voting rights battles that will play out across the country ahead of the November presidential election.

The case tests a key piece of broad voting restrictions passed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that North Carolina and other states with a history of discrimination no longer needed federal approval for voting law changes affecting minorities.

In another high-profile case, Texas is fighting to keep its photo voter ID requirement on the books.

“These are kind of bellwether cases that people are watching,” said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine professor who specializes in election law. “If Texas and North Carolina are successful here, then I suspect other states will follow suit.”

Democrats argue voter ID laws passed by Republican-led state legislatures are aimed at disenfranchising voters who typically support the Democratic party. Proponents of the measures say they are intended to prevent voter fraud and apply equally to everyone.

The trial in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will be the second held over the legality of sweeping changes made to the state’s election law in 2013.

Last summer, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder heard arguments about the shortened early voting period, end of same-day registration, elimination of pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds and banning of provisional ballots cast outside the correct precinct from being counted. He has not issued a decision.

The voter ID requirement is getting a separate vetting after lawmakers amended it in 2015 ahead of the initial trial.

Now, voters who cite a “reasonable impediment” to being able to obtain acceptable identification will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Challengers maintain the law still discriminates against voters of color, who disproportionately lack the necessary forms of identification, and could give election workers too much discretion.

It is unknown if Schroeder will rule before the state’s presidential primaries in March.

“We’re not going to be satisfied until the ID requirement is fully fixed, and voters are not intimidated from casting a ballot,” said the Reverend William Barber, president of North Carolina’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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