Fate Of The New N.C. Voter ID Law Now Rests In A Judge's Hands
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In North Carolina, a federal judge is deciding whether to block parts of a controversial voting law. This week the judge heard a challenge to that state's new measure. At issue is whether the law discriminates against African-Americans. The group of plaintiffs suing the state wants provisions of the voting law halted until a trial next summer. North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii was at this week's court hearing and has this report.
JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: The testimony was for the most part dense, slow and technical. There was discussion about polling line and research methodology. At other moments, it was combative. After four days, a dozen witnesses and six hours of closing arguments, some plaintiffs and their attorneys of the NAACP gathered outside the courthouse to pray.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We have faith in you today - beyond the courts, beyond the lawyers, beyond the system. We have faith in the God of justice who sits high and looks low.
TIBERII: This hearing comes after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer, which struck down part of the federal Voting Rights Act. North Carolina legislators almost immediately passed a bill overhauling the state's voting law. Among other changes, the new Voter Information Verification Act reduces the number of early voting days, eliminates same-day registration and requires voters to show ID, starting in 2016. Allison Riggs is an attorney for the plaintiffs.
ALLISON RIGGS: This is a really unique case. I mean, North Carolina's voter suppression law is something that we have not seen anywhere else in the country.
TIBERII: Riggs works at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Other plaintiffs include U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union. They say the new law discriminates against African-Americans who use early voting and same-day registration at greater rates than whites.
RIGGS: Voters in this state have really, as a whole, come to rely on these provisions. And there's no justification for taking them away. When they're that reliant on it, the evidence is that taking them away is unsettling, discouraging, will deter voters from participating.
TIBERII: Outside the building, defense attorneys had little to say.
UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: No, no comment. Thank you.
TIBERII: But inside the courtroom, where recording devices are banned, the state's attorneys argued there's no concrete evidence to predict how the new law will affect minority participation. They maintain no one is being prevented from casting a ballot. They claim the motivation behind this law is to streamline the voting process, be cost effective and prevent fraud. They add that North Carolina would still have 10 days of early voting, which is among the most in the country.
RICK HASEN: I think there's something to be said for North Carolina's argument that since many states do not offer any kind of early voting whatsoever, how could it be a violation to simply cut back, while still offering early voting?
TIBERII: Rick Hasen is a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. He specializes in election law and says this is something of a test case.
HASEN: Another possibility is that the court's going to apply some kind of rule that says that once you offer something, which makes it easier for people to vote, you can't cut back on it - at least if cutting back on it is going to have a special impact on minority voters.
TIBERII: During the last day of arguments, Federal Judge Thomas Schroeder sat back in his chair with the end of his glasses in his mouth, listening intently. In other moments, he peppered the plaintiff's with questions - some about the consequences of his decision. Law Professor Hasen says the judge's ruling could set a significant precedent for election law. If the judge allows the law to be implemented as is, Hasen says other states could follow with similar measures. A ruling is expected to take several weeks. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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