Will North Carolinians have to show photo ID at the polls? Not so fast

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Voters already do not have to show a photo ID to cast a ballot in the March primary, and attorneys say with a new court ruling this week it’s increasingly unlikely they will have to show an ID in the November general election either.

The NC Court of Appeals put the state’s voter ID law on hold Tuesday. The Civitas Institute, a conservative group, filed ethics complaints Wednesday against two of the judges who ruled in the case.

The judges determined the plaintiffs suing in the case are likely to prove the General Assembly acted with “discriminatory intent.”

Jeanette Doran, president and general counsel of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, said, “It’s pretty likely that we’re not going to have this law in place in November, and that’s, again, that’s a tragedy.”

In 2018, voters by a margin of 55-45 approved amending the state’s constitution to require voters to show a photo ID when they cast a ballot. The amendment did not spell out the specifics, leaving it to the General Assembly to pass a law implementing the new requirement. 

The bill they passed at the end of 2018 has been the subject of litigation since then.

In a separate case, a federal judge’s ruling at the end of last year put the implementation of the law on hold, meaning voters would not have to show ID for the March primary.

“I’ve worked in constitutional law the vast majority of my career, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Doran.

Tomas Lopez is executive director of Democracy NC, which has fought against the voter ID law.

He said the latest ruling “does reduce the likelihood of seeing voter ID applied this fall.”  

“ID laws in practice have, especially in North Carolina, have discriminated against voters, especially voters of color, especially young people and especially certain older folks as well,” he said. “We recognize what is in the state constitution, and we also do take issue with some of the underlying ways in which that ended up in the state constitution.”

In their ruling, the judges focused on what types of identification would be allowed and which wouldn’t.

They write, “…the General Assembly’s decision to exclude public-assistance and federal-government-issued IDs will likely have a negative effect on African Americans because such types of IDs are ‘disproportionately held by African Americans.’”

In a statement, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said, “North Carolinians know that General Assembly leaders will continue to fight on their behalf for a commonsense voter ID law that they chose to put in our state constitution, and we will not be deterred by judicial attempts to suppress the people’s voice in the democratic process.” 

The opinion was written by Judges Toby Hampson, John Arrowood and Allegra Collins, who are all Democrats.

On Wednesday, the Civitas Institute filed complaints with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission against Judges Arrowood and Hampson.

Civitas cites questionnaires the two filled out in 2018 for the People’s Alliance PAC in which they said they would vote against the constitutional amendment to require photo ID to vote.  

“Judges are explicitly prohibited from doing this, according to their own rules,” said Civitas President Donald Bryson. “Voters already feel like their voice at the ballot box has been nullified by these judges, now they know they did not even get the fair hearing that the law demands. We urge the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission to take immediate action.”

CBS17 has reached out to the judges for comment.

The questionnaire notes, “Judges and judicial candidates in North Carolina are allowed substantial freedom of political speech. PA PAC believes that every question in this questionnaire may be answered fully within the scope of the applicable rules.”

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