RALEIGH, NC – A hearing was held today to set a trial date in the ongoing federal challenge to North Carolina’s discriminatory Photo Voter ID law, S.B. 824. During the hearing, attorneys for the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (“NAACP NC”) requested a February 2024 trial date in the case, which they say would allow them to provide the court a full and current evidentiary record regarding the 2023 municipal elections and still enable the court to make a full decision and provide relief before the 2024 general election. Attorneys and advocates say this case will determine whether Black and Latino voters in this state will be able to vote on equal terms in the upcoming election and beyond.
NAACP NC, its attorneys, members, and supporters have argued that this new requirement has a disproportionate impact on Black, brown and poor voters, making it harder for them to access their constitutional right to vote, effectively silencing their voices and shutting them out of our democracy. S.B. 824’s photo voter ID requirement was implemented in North Carolina for the first time in this fall’s municipal elections. Plaintiffs’ attorneys provided several examples during the hearing today on how the newly implemented Photo ID law has already impacted community members.
Ms. Perry, a ninety-five-year-old Black woman living in Nash County, tried to vote curbside with her son during early voting for the October 2023 municipal election. When they arrived to vote, Ms. Perry and her son explained she had misplaced her photo ID. Instead of being offered a photo ID exception form, intended for this exact circumstance, she was given a provisional ballot to fill out and told that she needed to go to the county board of elections to obtain a free photo identification card. They had to drive across the county to get her picture taken in order to produce a photo identification for her ballot. Luckily, her vote was ultimately counted but as her son said when he shared this story with plaintiffs’ attorneys, “…what would have happened to a person in her shoes who didn’t have someone to go back and help them. They’d be out of luck and their vote wouldn’t count.”
Attorneys for NAACP NC have also previously outlined the numerous ways that the rushed implementation of this new law could be problematic for voters and poll workers; and say that the most recent municipal cycle revealed numerous inconsistencies in the way this law was implemented, ultimately disenfranchising many voters.
Kathleen Roblez, Senior Voting Rights Counsel at Forward Justice explained, “The provisions of S.B. 824 that impose voter-identification requirements, expand the number of poll observers, and loosen eligibility requirements for people who can challenge ballots, as well as the State’s implementation of those provisions, will, independently and collectively, interact with social and historical conditions in North Carolina— including racial disparities in areas such as housing, education, employment, income, health, and criminal justice—to deny African Americans and Latinos meaningful and equal access to the political process.”
Several voters experienced issues during the 2023 municipal elections, including Ms. Brower, a Black woman from Moore County, who presented her current and valid North Carolina driver’s license to vote in the Nov 7th election; however, the poll worker told her that she couldn’t vote because the address on that ID didn’t match the address on her voter registration. Even after Ms. Brower explained that she currently lives at the address where she is registered to vote, she was turned away because of her address not matching. What happened to Ms. Brower violates current clear guidance from the State Board of Elections that “a photo ID for voting does not have to have the voter’s current address.”
In a state where margins for key races are regularly razor thin, with some statewide races being decided by fewer than 100 votes, plaintiffs’ attorneys say election victories come down to ensuring that each vote does count in these elections.
Today in court, plaintiffs argued that the State Board defendants should have to provide information to the court around the law’s implementation during the most recent cycle of municipal elections, the first time this law has been implemented in North Carolina. State Board Defendants argued that they should not have to provide that information because plaintiffs did not request it at a certain time in the case and in a certain procedural way.
Judge Biggs in response said, “This court believes nothing is more important than the right to vote. We have an act challenging that constitutional right and this court knows that there is implementation information available. I’m going to be very concerned if that information is not before the court. This court is here to do justice. I need all the information before me to make a reasoned, thoughtful, sound decision.”
Community members, plaintiffs, attorneys and advocates say they will not stop their fight for free and fair access to the ballot.
NAACP NC President, Deborah Dix Maxwell says, “The NAACP NC was pleased to make our voices heard today in court and we look forward to hearing back from the court on when trial will be set. We stand ready with the full weight of evidence, and with the will of the people behind us, to defend our constitutional right and ensure that Black, Brown and poor people are not continuously boxed out of our democratic process.”
A stay had been in place for over a year in the case, and on June 9, Plaintiffs from the NAACP North Carolina, including the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Greensboro, High Point, Moore County, Stokes County and Winston-Salem Forsyth County branches, requested a status conference in the case, which was held on July 26. Plaintiffs’ request to lift the stay and begin moving the case through the courts again came a day after the historic 5-4 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that Alabama discriminated against Black voters when it drew its seven congressional districts in 2022.
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided that the legislative leaders could intervene as a procedural matter in this case. However, that decision did not address the constitutionality of North Carolina’s discriminatory Voter ID law, and NAACP North Carolina will continue to vigorously pursue its challenge to that law now that the case has returned to the federal trial court.
About NAACP North Carolina State Conference
Founded in 1943, the North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches (NAACP North Carolina State Conference) is the oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization in North Carolina, overseeing the programmatic work of over 120 NAACP branches, youth councils, and college chapters. The NAACP North Carolina State Conference is focused on advocating for policies and programs to benefit Blacks and people of color.
About Forward Justice
Forward Justice is a nonpartisan law, policy and strategy center dedicated to advancing racial, social, and economic justice in the U.S. South. Our work catalyzes success for social movements and expands opportunities for people affected by injustice. www.ForwardJustice.org
About Arnold & Porter
With nearly 1,000 lawyers practicing in 14 offices around the globe, Arnold & Porter serves clients across 40 distinct practice areas. The firm offers 100 years of renowned regulatory expertise, sophisticated litigation and transactional practices, and leading multidisciplinary offerings in the life sciences and financial services industries.