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Wednesday, 03 August 2016 14:13

Voter ID law struck down in N.C.

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Ruling that North Carolina’s 2013 voter identification law purposely targets African-Americans with “almost surgical precision,” the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down the measure last Friday, stating that there was evidence that “because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”

The legislation was made possible initially by a U.S. Supreme Court rollback of parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and required that voters display ID at the polls effective this year. The new voter ID law also disallowed same-day registration and pre-registration programs for 16- and 17-year-old high school students. 

The law appeared to have some merit to it when, in 2014, the N.C. Republican Party said that more than 35,000 cases of possible voter fraud had been discovered in an audit. But in 2015, executive director of the State Board of Elections Kim Strach testified that her office had presented evidence for only 31 prosecutions. 

One of the plaintiffs in the suit against the bill was the North Carolina branch of the NAACP. Its president, Rev. William J. Barber II, who visited Sylva last month and gave a fiery speech at the Democratic National Convention last week, told the New York Times that the Richmond, Virginia, court’s ruling was “vindication” over “this extremist legislature and our extremist governor.”

State Republicans obviously felt differently. 

A statement issued by Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, on June 29, called the decision by the three-judge panel “partisan” and attempted to tie their ruling to Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton and N.C. Attorney General and Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Roy Cooper, who would now be allowed to “steal the election.”

“We will obviously be appealing this politically motivated decision to the Supreme Court,” the statement read. 

NCGOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse took a similar tack, stating that, “Roy Cooper’s lack of strong defense of North Carolina’s voter ID law has left our citizens with fewer rights than other voter ID states across the country. We all lost. Republicans will continue to fight for ballot security until the war against voter fraud is won.”

Nationally, that battle doesn’t seem to be going Republicans’ way, however. A voter ID law was struck down Aug. 1 in North Dakota, which now joins Kansas, Texas and Wisconsin as states where such voter suppression tactics have been scaled back or eliminated altogether this year alone. 

Locally, Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, said he wasn’t surprised and was glad to hear of the decision. 

“We argued during floor debate that it was unconstitutional and wouldn’t stand, and it hasn’t,” he said. “For them to waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending the indefensible is just ridiculous.” 

Indeed, the three-judge panel that decided the appeal said the measure was “racially discriminatory.” In an email, Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, called it a “common sense voter ID law.”

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