The independent news organization of Duke University

North Carolina voter ID law generates controversy

North Carolina’s controversial voter identification law will stay in place after a ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder at the end of April.

The 2013 law calls for North Carolina voters to bring photo identification when casting their ballots, eliminates same-day registration and ends “out-of-precinct” voting.  Supporters—including Republican governor Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law—claim that it helps protect against voter fraud.

Many Democrats, however, have said the law is a way to deter minorities from reaching the polls. Schroeder’s recent ruling dismissed a lawsuit that claimed the law to be unconstitutional, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. However, the NAACP chapter has since filed an appeal, which is scheduled to be heard June 21 in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Both sides are demagoguing this,” said Michael Munger, director of the philosophy, politics and economics program. “There’s no evidence of fraud and there’s no evidence of a turnout harm. They’re both using it for political purposes in a way that’s so cynical it reveals why people don’t like parties.” 

In his ruling, Schroeder noted there was no clear evidence of disenfranchisement from this legislation, although he acknowledged that North Carolina did have a history of discrimination.

“[Plaintiffs] failed to show that such disparities will have materially adverse effects on the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot and effectively exercise the electoral franchise,” Schroeder wrote in his ruling. 

Munger said that for years North Carolina has had some of the most liberal voting laws in the country, but that it is now in the middle. 

Other states are facing challenges to their voter identification laws as well. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is currently weighing a Texas identification law. The law remains in effect, pending a ruling, despite having been struck down by earlier federal court rulings.

A federal court in Wisconsin is similarly expected to issue a ruling in a trial of Wisconsin’s voter identification law that ended in late May. 

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York School of Law study has found that 22 states have issued voting restrictions since the 2010 midterm elections. 

However, Munger argued that North Carolina’s early voting laws actually remain fairly liberal. 

“Anybody who doesn’t have an ID can just ask to vote absentee and their vote will be counted,” Munger said.

Many Democrats have expressed fear that Republicans advocated the law to disenfranchise poor minority voters who may be less likely to have government-issued identification and are often Democratic voters. 

Munger acknowledged that if somebody lacks financial resources, does not own a car, is less comfortable filling out forms or has poor language skills, obtaining identification could be more difficult.

“You go to the DMV, you wait in line a long time, you don’t have exactly the right forms, you get turned away, you have to take the bus back home because you don’t have a car, you have to come back the next day and you still don’t have the right forms,” he said. 

These voting laws can potentially make voting more difficult for college students as well, Munger said. Some Duke students choose to register to vote because of North Carolina’s historical status as a presidential swing state. 

However, some North Carolina residents may be uncomfortable with out-of-state students registering in North Carolina because they do not have an interest in local elections, he added. 

The largest obstacle to voting in compliance with voter identification laws is time, noted junior Nicholas Justice, a member of Duke Political Union. 

“Duke students are some of the busiest people I’ve ever seen, and if they have to take the extra time to get their passport mailed in, or go to the North Carolina DMV, we’re going to see a drop in [voter] attendance,” Justice said. 

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