- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s upcoming photo identification requirement to vote received a full day in court Friday but no decision from a judge on whether the mandate is lawful to begin in 2016 or unconstitutionally harms the poor or older adults who lack IDs.

Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan didn’t immediately rule on motions by each side that would essentially declare a winner, and said it may take him up to three weeks to do so. A summer trial is scheduled unless Morgan strikes down the requirement as unconstitutional or rejects all the claims of those who sued.

Attorneys representing state officials sat at one table in a Wake County courtroom while lawyers for some voters and two advocacy groups sat at another making oral arguments on top of written briefs already filed since the August 2013 lawsuit.

The litigation is one of four complaints filed soon after Gov. Pat McCrory signed an elections overhaul law that contained several voting changes. In additional to photo ID, the law reduced the number of early-voting period days by one week, repealed same-day registration and prohibited voting outside one’s home precinct on Election Day.

Three of the four lawsuits are in federal court and address several voting changes. A summer trial is also expected on the three lawsuits combined.

The state lawsuit targets alone photo ID, in which registered voters who choose to vote in person will have to show one of six types of qualified identification cards. Older adults can use expired IDs, and those without them can apply for a free ID card from the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Republican lawmakers have argued photo identification will prevent voter fraud and restore confidence in the election system. Critics say documented cases of fraud are few and will present an unlawful obstacle to older adults, the poor and college students to vote, especially if they must collect or request documents needed for an ID.

Press Millen, an attorney representing the voters who sued, said the North Carolina Constitution doesn’t grant the legislature power to add criteria to participate in elections. The constitution says every U.S. citizen at least 18 years old living in North Carolina for a minimum number of days is entitled to vote, not including some convicted felons. Requiring photo ID is illegally adding to that list, Millen told Morgan.

“It’s the General Assembly trying to limit, condition and qualify who may vote,” Millen said.

The constitution also grants the legislature power to enact laws that regulate voter registration. According to Special Deputy Attorney General Alec Peters, requiring someone to present ID is simply an extension of registration by ensuing the person at the precinct is actually the person listed in the voter rolls. A prospective voter already must provide a name and address to the precinct worker.

“There simply is no discernable difference at all,” Peters said. A voter also can avoid the photo ID requirement if they choose to vote an absentee ballot my mail, he added.

The attorneys cited 19th-century North Carolina court rulings and debated the meaning of the state constitution’s demand that “all elections shall be free.” They also recalled Jim Crow-era changes that used literacy tests and poll taxes to discourage blacks from voting. Other plaintiffs in the state lawsuit are the League of Women Voters and A. Philip Randolph Institute in North Carolina.


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