Federal Judge Upholds NC Voter ID Law

Apr 25, 2016

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A federal judge has ruled North Carolina's voter ID law is constitutional.

In a 485 page opinion issued Monday, federal district judge Thomas Schroeder upheld North Carolina's voter identification laws. The decision also uphold changes to same-day registration and out of precinct provisional balloting.  

Plaintiffs, including the ACLU, NAACP, Department of Justice and individual voters, brought the suit following the passage of the measure in 2013. They claimed it unconstitutionally burdened minority voters. 

Schroeder's decision said the facts did not support their claims and photo identification is an acceptable election mechanism.

The court noted the importance of the legislature's addition of a  "reasonable impediment" provision, passed after the initial law, which allows individuals without identification to sign affidavits to vote.  The decision also relied on data showing that the elimination of same-day registration did not disproportionately affect minority voters in the state in 2014. 

The opinion relied heavily on discrediting the plaintiffs' expert witnesses' testimonies. Here are several passages from the Schroeder's ruling:

The failure of "young voters" used SDR in each of these general elections.  Plaintiffs' experts to conduct the kind of analyses that were possible, especially where it has been done in their scholarship under more rigorous standards, (e.g., Doc. 331 at 148-49 (Dr. Burden conceding that his North Carolina case study analysis in this case was less rigorous than his academic work)), impairs the persuasiveness of their testimony. (Page 172)

Oddly, it came to light at trial that one of Plaintiffs' experts, Morgan Kousser, Ph.D., a California resident, contributed to this anomaly by making a personal campaign contribution to the incumbent Democratic Senator for North Carolina in 2014 even though he was supposedly a neutral expert in this case. (Doc. 330 at 85-86.) Dr. Kousser is free to express his political views, but doing so while claiming to be an unbiased expert affects his credibility. More importantly, if Plaintiffs believed that the competitiveness of that campaign distorted the turnout numbers, they could have had their experts demonstrate this quantitatively. Plaintiffs' experts have done this type of analysis in the past, yet no effort was made to do so here. (Page 201)

Instead, Plaintiffs' experts rely on disproportionate use statistics for select elections to argue that African Americans were able to exceed parity with whites in terms of registration and turnout because of the eliminated procedures. This evidence is certainly relevant, but, as the court's findings of fact show, it does not justify such an inference. It cannot be that the Fourth Circuit's directive was too burdensome on Plaintiffs, because their experts admitted that they were capable of analyzing how such procedures affected political participation and have done so in the past. For whatever reason, however, they declined to produce such evidence in this case. (Page 220)

North Carolina is among a majority of U.S. States that has some form of ID requirement.

Governor McCrory issued a statement on the decision.

"This ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common-sense, it's constitutional."

A statement from the North Carolina ACLU indicates the plaintiffs will almost certainly appeal to the 4th Circuit Appellate Court in the coming weeks.

"The sweeping barriers imposed by this law undermine voter participation and have an overwhelmingly discriminatory impact on African-Americans. This ruling does not change that reality," said Dale Ho, director of the organization's Voting Rights project.

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