- Associated Press - Friday, May 20, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Another pending legal challenge to North Carolina’s voter identification requirement is still swimming around in state court, where a judge Friday heard arguments on whether a trial should be scheduled soon or more delays are the proper course.

Three consolidated federal lawsuits seeking to overturn the photo ID mandate and other voting changes made by the General Assembly already have been tried, with all the provisions in the 2013 case upheld last month as legal and constitutional. That case is on the fast-track to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, with scheduled arguments for next month.

The state lawsuit, initially filed in August 2013 by voters and voting-rights groups, focuses solely on the ID requirement as another qualification to vote beyond what the North Carolina Constitution demands and is unlawful. Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan put the proceedings on hold last fall until after photo ID was required for the first time during the March 15 primary.

It gave time to examine how the mandate at early-voting centers and primary day precincts worked, especially a late addition to the law allowing people who had trouble obtaining a qualified ID to fill out a form and provide other information so their vote would still count.

Those who sued filed an updated complaint in April, saying their individual plaintiffs are registered voters who were told by poll workers they could not vote or the provisional ballots they cast while using the “reasonable impediment” form failed to count.

“The reasonable impediment process did not work,” Anita Earls, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, told Morgan. Those who sued want a trial this summer - perhaps in August - and a favorable ruling directing that registered voters who lack an ID can cast a regular ballot that will count.

The state has asked the amended lawsuit be dismissed. Phil Strach, a private attorney representing the state in the case, said Friday any problems were the result of mistaken workers, not the voter ID mandate or the reasonable impediment exception.

He said it’s too late to hold a trial that could upset the voter ID process for the big November 8 general election for which state and local workers will be training and a statewide voter information system will be set.

“Unwinding, unbaking the ID requirement out of all the election processes will be a recipe, your honor, for disaster,” Strach told Morgan. “It’s a recipe for confusion and it will cause election workers to make mistakes that they not otherwise would make.”

First, Strach said, the state doesn’t believe Morgan has the authority to move the case along. He said Morgan should transfer the case to a three-judge panel to consider broad constitutional questions or wait for the state Court of Appeals to rule on the state’s pending appeal of earlier decisions by Morgan in the case.

Earls argued Morgan should go ahead and hold a trial on all or most portions of the lawsuit. She said the state’s attorneys overstated the obstacles allowing registered voters without IDs to vote would create.

Morgan said he would rule as soon as he could on several questions before him.


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