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Voter ID law goes back to court in North Carolina

Lawyers for both sides will return to court on October 23 to update U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder on negotiations meant to settle legal challenges to VIVA’s voter ID provision out of court, the Winston-Salem Journal reports.

Controversial Provision of a Complex Law

The photo ID requirement is one of the most controversial provisions of VIVA, a comprehensive overhaul of North Carolina voting law signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on August 12, 2013.

In its original form, the ID provision required voters to present one of eight state-approved photo IDs before casting a ballot, starting in 2016. Critics of the law have argued the photo ID requirement unfairly burdens poor, elderly, minority and student voters who are more likely to lack one of the eight approved IDs.

Lawsuits and Last-Minute Modifications

By September 30, 2013, three lawsuits aiming to overturn VIVA had been filed in federal court by the United States Department of Justice, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs, who claimed the law violated the United States Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

The three lawsuits were combined for trial purposes, with a trial slated to begin July 13, 2015.

On June 18, three weeks before the trial began, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill easing VIVA’s strict photo ID requirement. Under the new legislation, any voter lacking the required ID can sign an affidavit declaring a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining an ID.

Acceptable “impediments” include travel problems, family responsibilities and work schedule conflicts. Voters completing the affidavit would be need to show a voter registration card or provide the final four digits of their Social Security number. They would then be offered a provisional ballot.

Voter ID Not Considered in Trial

On June 26, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder ordered the voter ID provision would not be considered during the trial. Instead, he told both sides to assess the impact of the new legislation on their claims and report back to him by August 17.

The federal trial began as scheduled.

The trial lasted three weeks. VIVA eliminated out-of-precinct voting, same-day registration and cut seven days from the state’s early voting schedule, among other changes.

Judge Schroeder has not yet ruled on those other provisions.

Negotiations Ongoing, but Unsuccessful

On August 17, Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a status report saying their concerns about the voter ID provision “may be able to be resolved through discussions and negotiations with Defendants.”

On September 18, a new status report said Plaintiffs’ attorneys were ready to offer a draft agreement on the voter ID provision to the Defense team.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports the Plaintiffs presented a proposal on September 29 but the Defense rejected it, saying there was “almost no chance” the two sides could reach an agreement.

The Defense is asking Judge Schroeder to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ challenge to the voter ID provision.

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