RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With a pair of court cases looming on the state’s voter identification measure, lawmakers have made some late changes to the law that loosen the requirements of that provision.
The question now is how that change will impact the upcoming lawsuits.
The changes to the voter ID measure came up out of the blue, surprising many lawmakers and even some conservative organizations like the Civitas Institute. It cleared both chambers of the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign it.
The voter ID law has been a contentious one, and on Wednesday close to a dozen people were arrested as part of a protest at the General Assembly.
On Thursday, Republican leaders brought a quickly amended version of the bill to the floor, surprising many, that would allow voters without photo IDs to cast provisional ballots.
“What is the urgency about this weekend?” asked Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Wake County. “Then I remembered: there’s a lawsuit, a trial next month in Winston-Salem. Your lawyers have clearly told you that the voter ID provision we voted on in 2013 is clearly unconstitutional.”
The North Carolina Republican Party was already running ads offering to drive people to their local DMV to obtain a voter ID card, an effort they say will continue. And Republican lawmakers said the amended measure was a result of listening to public feedback.
Professor David McLennan of Meredith College called it “a smart political move.”
“This allows people to file a provisional ballot if they don’t have a proper ID,” McLennan said. “But the question that’s still going to be up in the court is, is just the threat of voter ID enough to keep people from voting? That’s going to be the crux of the legal case.”
On Monday, a Wake County judge had scheduled a hearing on the voter ID law, but that has been changed to a status conference to determine how the legislature’s action affects the case down the road, according to an attorney involved in the case.
The federal lawsuit in Winston-Salem is pending in July. That case, the League of Women Voters v. North Carolina, was filed in August 2013, when Gov. Pat McCrory signed the voter ID bill.