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Supreme Court To Review Dispute Over North Carolina Voter ID Law

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a dispute over voter ID laws in North Carolina just months before November’s crucial midterm elections.

The court announced that it will hear a case over whether Republican lawmakers in North Carolina can intervene to defend the state’s voter ID law from lawsuits.

Republican lawmakers say the state’s Democratic Attorney General John Stein is not properly defending the law from legal challenges brought by the NAACP and other groups who claim it violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

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Back in September, a North Carolina three-judge panel blocked the state’s photo voter ID law, ruling that it “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.”

The law, S.B. 824, requires voters to present a photo ID in order to vote.

In a 2-1 ruling, two Wake County Superior Court judges held that the law violates the state’s constitution “because it was adopted with a discriminatory purpose.”

“North Carolina’s Voter ID law was enacted with the unconstitutional intent to discriminate against African American voters,” the majority wrote.

The two judges cited a 2015 study by Sen. Van Duyn that found at least 5.9% of registered voters lacked identification and that 9.6% of black voters “lacked acceptable ID” compared to just 4.5% of registered white voters under a previous election bill.

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The majority also said the law was discriminatory because “since a greater percentage of Black voters live in poverty, Black voters face greater hurdles to acquiring photo ID.”

S.B. 824 required voters in North Carolina to present photo ID, including driver’s licenses, military IDs, and other forms of identification.

Judge Nathaniel Poovey dissented, claiming “not one scintilla of evidence was introduced during this trial that any legislator acted with racially discriminatory intent.”

Poovey said plaintiffs relied on the “past history of other lawmakers and used an extremely broad brush to paint the 2018 General Assembly with the same toxic paint. The majority opinion, in this case, attempts to weave together the speculations and conjectures that Plaintiffs put forward as circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent behind Session Law 2018-144.”

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Poovey noted that plaintiffs “failed to meet their initial burden” to prove the legislature “acted with a racially discriminatory intent.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of counting undated mail-in ballots in a contested Pennsylvania local election.

The 6-3 ruling could create broader implications for close races in November’s crucial midterm elections.

“Over the objection of three justices, the Court restored a federal appeals court ruling that said disqualifying ballots received on time but lacking a handwritten date on the return envelope would violate federal voting rights,” ABC News reported. “Pennsylvania state law requires that voters include a date next to the signature, even though mail ballots are typically postmarked and dated again by election officials when they are received. The appeals court concluded the absence of the handwritten date was an immaterial error.”

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“The Supreme Court did not elaborate on its decision to allow counting to proceed, and it is not binding precedent. But it does suggest that a majority of justices support the view that discarding ballots over small administrative errors or omissions would harm the franchise,” the report added.

In the dissent, conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch wrote they would have stayed the appeals court ruling in order to review the merits of the dispute, which he said “could well affect the outcome of the fall elections.”

Alito wrote that he believes the Third Circuit opinion is “very likely wrong.”

“When a mail-in ballot is not counted because it was not filled out correctly, the voter is not denied ‘the right to vote.’ Rather, that individual’s vote is not counted because he or she did not follow the rules for casting a ballot,” Alito wrote.

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Pennsylvania has had a slew of issues with calling elections and racing not being called for many days after election night.

Earlier this month, Dr. Mehmet Oz secured the Republican nomination for the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania after his opponent Dave McCormick conceded.

McCormick may have benefitted from the counting of undated mail-in ballots, which were ultimately discarded and he lost the race by roughly 900 votes.

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