Yesterday, Judge Thomas Schroeder of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina upheld North Carolina's voter ID law in a479-page opinion that carefully considered and analyzed all the evidence presented by both sides. The court also dismissed challenges to other election reforms - more about those in a later post.
Finally, North Carolina’s voter-ID requirement, now with a reasonable impediment exception, serves legitimate State interests recognized by the Supreme Court in Crawfordwithout imposing a material burden on any group of voters. Plaintiffs’ contention that North Carolina’s requirement is one of the strictest in the country ignores the reasonable impediment exception. If North Carolina is an outlier, it is because it is one of only two States in the Nation to accommodate voters who wish to vote in person but for whatever reason face an impediment to acquiring qualifying ID. The court’s conclusion is fully consistent with the same finding of the three-judge court that approved a virtually identical photo-ID law with reasonable impediment in South Carolina. . . .
In short, North Carolina has provided legitimate State interests for its voter-ID requirement and electoral system . . . . Plaintiffs oppose this system because they preferred one that they say was even more convenient – which they used disproportionately during certain elections – and point to some fraction of voters who did not vote or register. Plaintiffs’ contention that such voters did not do so because of vestiges of historical official discrimination is rebutted by the facts. There is strong evidence that some other reason is at play for the failure of these persons to register and/or vote. The unprecedented gains by African Americans in registration and turnout, both during and even in 2014 after SL 2013-381, bolster this conclusion. While the consideration is clearly local and practical in nature, based on North Carolina’s unique facts, it would no doubt bear relevance if North Carolina were seeking to return to an electoral system that was not in the mainstream of other States. It is not.
The court considered a vast amount of evidence to reach its conclusions:
In reaching the decision released on Monday, Schroeder conducted a two-part trial that spanned more than 21 days in July and this past January. He considered the testimony of 21 expert witnesses and 112 other witnesses, and more than 25,000 pages that are part of the record.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory recognized the wisdom of the decision:
This ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common-sense, it's constitutional . . . . Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID and thankfully a federal court has ensured our citizens will have the same protection for their basic right to vote.
The court was right to recognize that the state of North Carolina has a legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of its elections. The decision has already been appealed to the 4th Circuit, but Judge Schroeder's thoughtful, careful findings of fact will be given deference by any reviewing appellate court and should hold up to scrutiny.