05/16/17 — Voter ID rejected by high court

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Voter ID rejected by high court

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 16, 2017 9:57 AM

The fight over the state's voter identification law might not be over despite the Supreme Court's rejection Monday of an appeal to reinstate it.

House Majority Leader John Bell, of Goldsboro, said that the court's rejection was based on legal issues surrounding the appeal and not the actual merits of the appeal.

Bell did not rule out a renewed effort by Republicans to revisit the law, including a possible push to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment requiring a photo ID in order to vote. Other options include a new bill or reworking the existing one, he said.

Meanwhile, DNC Chair Tom Perez said in a press release that the party is creating a "voter protection and empowerment unit" to stand up and resist the ongoing "assault on the right to vote" from President Donald Trump and the GOP.

However, Bell said the voter ID law was "very, very, very popular" across the state with a 70-plus percent approval rating.

It is too early to say what will happen, but the issue is "very important," and it remains to be seen what can be done before the General Assembly hopefully adjourns on July 9, he said.

"I would like to see us move forward sooner than later on this," Bell said. "But we do have our obligations to the citizens of the state to get the budget done, and we are on track to get that done. So this just means that we will just have to work harder."

Bell said he does not foresee Gov. Roy Cooper calling a special session for an issue that he does not support. However, the General Assembly can call itself back into session, he said.

The voter ID requirement did not make any difference one way or the other in 2016 election in either Wayne County or across the state, Wayne County Board of Elections Director Dane Beavers said.

"Most of the voters seem happy to show their voter ID and were OK with it," Beavers said. "It did not slow things down or speed them up. It really did not hinder or improve anything."

The voter photo ID measure, approved in 2013 by the state's Republican-dominated legislature, also reduced the number of early voting days and prohibited same-day registration during the early-voting period.

Supporters said the measure was necessary to crack down on voter fraud, but opponents said the changes discourage voting by black and Hispanic residents, who use early voting or same-day registration more than white voters and are more likely to lack photo ID.

When the law passed, North Carolina Republicans said voter ID is a sound requirement to increase the integrity of elections.

But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address.

The lower court also said that the law targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision."

The law was amended in 2015 to include a method for people unable to get a photo ID to still vote.

Following the appellate ruling, the state asked the high court to allow the challenged provisions to remain in effect in November's election. The justices rejected the request by virtue of a 4-4 tie on most of the challenged provisions, with the four more conservative justices supporting the state's bid.

The justices left in place the lower court ruling striking down the law's photo ID requirement and reduction in early voting.

In February, Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein moved to end the case by withdrawing the state's petition for appeal to the Supreme Court.

The appeal had been filed during Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's administration.

"Today's announcement is good news for North Carolina voters," Cooper said in a press release. "We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder -- and the court found this law sought to discriminate against African-American voters with 'surgical precision,'" Cooper said. "I will continue to work to protect the right of every legal, registered North Carolinian to participate in our democratic process."

Chief Justice John Roberts said the political situation surrounding the appeal created uncertainty over who is authorized to seek review of the lower court ruling.

Roberts cautioned Monday that the rejection of the appeal is not a comment on the court's view about the substance of the law.

"They (court) basically said, 'You've got some legal issues going on, and we are not going to debate, we are not going to take up your legal challenges,'" Bell said. "'Once you get those (resolved) then we will consider hearing the case.'"

Bell said he was saddened that Cooper and Stein have chosen to "disregard the overwhelming majority" of North Carolina citizens who support the idea of showing a photo ID at the polls.

Bell said he is hopeful that, once heard, the 4th Circuit ruling will be overturned re-instating the "common-sense measures" that ensure voter integrity during elections.

However, Democratic Sen. Don Davis of Snow Hill welcomed the rejection and called voting a "precious right" that must never be taken for granted.

"Every step must be taken to protect it and to help us maintain confidence in our democracy," he said. "The court has weighed both sides and spoke. Now, it is incumbent on all of us to do our part and vote in every election. You can never fully guess the court. It is important for residents to vote and remain vigilant."

-- The AP contributed to this article.