- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - With enforcement of new photo identification requirements now likely in North Carolina for the March 15 primary, a court now must decide whether they’ll stay in place.

Attorneys for state officials and those who sued to overturn the 2013 voter ID law - including the U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP and voters - are going to trial starting Monday. After a week or so of testimony, a federal judge in Winston-Salem will determine whether North Carolina’s photo ID mandate complies with or violates the U.S. Constitution or federal Voting Rights Act.

The same judge refused earlier this month the NAACP’s request to prevent the voter ID law from being implemented in part, he wrote, because the NAACP was unlikely to win at trial. The civil rights group says they’ll have compelling evidence to present at trial. Appeals are likely.

Under the law, registered voters who want to vote in person must show one of six qualifying IDs, such as a driver’s license, a passport or a military ID. The Division of Motor Vehicles is supposed to provide identification cards to registered voters who lack one for free. People who claim a “reasonable impediment” to getting an ID can still vote if they sign a form and provide other identifying information at the polling place.

However, the additional exceptions added by lawmakers last summer don’t fix the underlying problem, according to the plaintiffs. They contend the Republican-led legislature passed the voter ID mandate to intentionally discourage blacks from voting.

“There’s no doubt that the ID requirement disproportionately burdens the right to vote for voters of color in North Carolina,” Denise Lieberman, an attorney for the state NAACP, said this past week.

The state contends, however, expert evidence the plaintiffs intend to present greatly over-calculated the numbers of registered voters who lacking a photo ID, and said in a court filing those who sued will be unable at trial to identify “any specific individual who will definitively be unable to vote as a result of the photo ID requirement.” More than 6.4 million people are registered to vote.

GOP lawmakers and supporters like Republican Gov. Pat McCrory call the mandate a common sense measure. It’s a “reasonable requirement in place for the March primary to help preserve the integrity of their elections,” Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement earlier this month.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder already has given the two sides until Feb. 11 to provide additional records before he rules. In-person early voting, when photo ID rules take effect, begins March 3.

Schroeder held a separate trial last July that focused on the legality of other election provisions approved in the voter ID law in 2013, including fewer early voting days and the end of same-day registration. Schroeder has yet to rule on those matters.

A lawsuit in state court challenging the voter ID requirement alone was delayed until after the primary.

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