The decision could have a big impact in a state that is key to the 2020 presidential election
A federal judge formally blocked North Carolinas new voter identification law on Tuesday, ruling that discriminatory intent was likely a motivating factor in how the measure was crafted.
The decision from US district judge Loretta Biggs could have big consequences in North Carolina, a key state in the 2020 presidential election that is scheduled to hold its presidential primary on 3 March. Donald Trump carried the state in 2016, but Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, won in 2016, by just over 10,000 votes.
This weeks ruling was a blow to state Republicans, who overrode a veto from Cooper to enact the law last year. The measure came two years after North Carolinas previous voter ID law was struck down as part of a host of voting restrictions a federal appeals court said targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision. African Americans make up about one-fifth of registered voters in North Carolina. Turnout among African Americans dropped six percentage points from 2012 to 2016.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment to require voter photo ID in 2018. But the new voter ID law, Biggs wrote Tuesday, didnt fix the discrimination present in the old one. She noted many of the same lawmakers pushed the new law and had openly said it was designed not to fix discriminatory issues, but to survive further legal challenge.
The legislature sought ways to circumvent state and federal courts and further entrench itself, she wrote.
This iteration of the North Carolina law required voters to present one of 10 forms of acceptable identification, such as a drivers license, passport, or military ID in order to vote. But Biggs noted that minority voters in the state were less likely to possess an acceptable form of ID. She also noted that African American voters were more likely to have public assistance and military IDs both of which were not considered an acceptable form of voter ID under the law.
The evidence suggests that minority voters are not just less likely to have an acceptable form of ID, but that the legislature excluded photographic ID that could have greatly reduced that discrepancy, she wrote.
Biggs also appeared unconvinced that certain provisions in the law would mitigate the impact on black voters. While the law provides free ID to anyone who cannot afford one, she noted that those who need ID might not be able to spare the time to travel to the DMV to get one, even if it was free. She also wrote that a provision allowing people to vote if they swore they could not get ID could lead to confusion among poll workers.
In addition to blocking the voter ID measure on Tuesday, Biggs also stopped a provision in the law that allowed poll watchers to challenge someones ballot if they did not have acceptable photo ID. She ordered state election officials to publicize that voter ID would not be needed to vote in the state until she issued a further ruling.