“Such a choice speaks more of an intention to target African American voters rather than a desire to comply with the newly created Amendment in a fair and balanced manner,” the panel wrote in its opinion. “Defendants have yet to show [the law] would have been enacted in its current form irrespective of any alleged underlying discriminatory intent.”
The ruling is a significant victory for Democrats and civil rights groups, which had hoped to derail the law before voters go to the polls Nov. 3. With its 15 electoral votes, the state will be a pivotal battleground in the presidential election; North Carolina backed President Trump in 2016 by a small margin of 173,315 votes.
The voter ID law was already under a temporary injunction because of a federal court ruling in a separate lawsuit, which found that some of its provisions violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. That injunction was set to last at least through next month’s primaries, when North Carolininians vote as part of Super Tuesday on March 3.
Kareem Crayton, executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, noted that even if the federal injunction were lifted, it would “not disturb the state decision that we received today,” since the state-level injunction, he said, is all but certain to last through November.
In a phone interview, Crayton described Tuesday as a “good day” for voting rights advocates.
“Under the state constitution, this law is not consistent with existing principles against racial discrimination,” said Crayton, whose group represented plaintiffs in the suit. “. . . When you’re picking and choosing the winners and losers and the people who will and won’t have access to the ballot box, you’re not supporting the democratic system.”
Proponents of S.B. 824 point to several provisions that they say counterbalance its limitations on voter access: Voters can obtain free photo IDs from their county boards of election, and if they lack an acceptable form of ID at a polling place, they can cast provisional ballots after completing a form and signing an affidavit.
The state appeals court noted that those ballots are “subject to rejection if the county board believes the voter’s affidavit and reasonable impediment are false.”
Both the federal and state litigation are poised to continue through this year.
State House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, responded to the decision with a vow to “continue to fight on [the people’s] behalf for a commonsense voter ID law.”
“We will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process,” Moore said Tuesday in a written statement.
The three-judge panel predicted Tuesday that the state-level case will succeed on the merits at trial.
Defending their injunction, the judges wrote that a failure to block the law in the meantime would negatively affect African Americans and would potentially discourage voting by heightening confusion about what is required to cast a ballot.
“Voter confusion has a strong potential to negatively impact voter turnout,” they wrote.