Professor Michael Curtis quoted in Winston-Salem Journal regarding North Carolina’s voter ID requirements

Photo of Wake Forest School of Law Professor Michael Curtis

Michael Kent Curtis is one of the foremost constitutional historians in the United States.

Professor Michael Curtis tells the Winston-Salem Journal here there appears to be both racial and political reasons for the photo ID requirements. The original story by Michael Hewlett follows.

A day after a federal trial on North Carolina’s photo ID voting requirement wrapped up, the president of North Carolina chapter of the NAACP announced a massive effort to register voters across the state.

The Rev. William Barber said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that it is imperative that he and others do everything they can to make sure every voter is able to cast a ballot in the March primaries. Early voting for the primary starts March 3.

“On today, we understand that we must fight to overcome burdens as we fight to undue those burdens,” he said.

Monday marked the end of a six-day trial in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem over the requirement, which took effect this year, that voters show a photo ID at the polls.

In a statement Tuesday, state Republican legislators called the federal lawsuits against the photo ID requirement an effort by “far-left interest groups” to block “commonsense policy” supported by a majority of North Carolina residents. The statement was sent by state Sen. Bob Rucho and state Rep. David Lewis, co-chairmen of the Joint Elections Oversight Committee.

“Those who continue to file frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to erase their losses at the ballot box are directly responsible for the increased costs of defending the law — and they should be held accountable to our taxpayers,” Lewis said in the news release. State Republican legislators have said the law is needed to restore the public’s confidence in the voting system and to combat potential voter fraud.

The law either eliminated or reduced voting reforms that voting rights activists say blacks and Hispanics used disproportionately, such as early voting and same-day voter registration. The photo ID requirement, as originally passed, was one of the strictest in the country. Voters need to present one of six kinds of photo ID, such as a driver’s license, to cast a ballot.

Last June, just a few weeks before a federal trial was to begin on the state’s elections law, the General Assembly amended the photo ID requirement, allowing voters to fill out a “reasonable impediment” declaration form and cast a provisional ballot. At the plaintiffs’ request, U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder delayed legal proceedings on the photo ID requirement until this year.

Barber said Tuesday that a march and rally will be held Feb. 13 in Raleigh. At that march, he said, organizers will begin recruiting volunteers to help register people and educate them about the photo ID requirement. He said efforts will be made to sign up 3,000 faith communities across the state to help with voter registration and education.

Barber said voters need to know that even if they don’t have a photo ID, there is a way they can still cast a ballot.

Closely Watched Trial

Everyone is watching what will happen in North Carolina.

Schroeder has yet to issue a decision on a federal trial that dealt with other provisions of North Carolina’s elections law. And it is unlikely he will issue a decision before the March primaries, said Denise Lieberman, one of the attorneys representing the state NAACP.

North Carolina had the distinction of pushing through a package of voting reforms all in one bill a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 had required states and communities that had a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval for any changes in elections laws. Forty counties in North Carolina were under that Section 5 requirement.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, said North Carolina is one of two states being watched nationally. Texas is the other. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly ruled that Texas’ photo ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but Texas officials have asked the full 5th Circuit court to reconsider. The case has been pending for months.

“What happens here is likely to affect what happens in other states,” Hasen said. “And the involvement of the (U.S.) Department of Justice here and in Texas indicates that the administration believes these are important test cases.”

Michael Curtis, a professor of constitutional and public law at Wake Forest University, said what is happening now in North Carolina recalls an earlier and uglier part of the state’s history. During Reconstruction, blacks and some whites voted Republican in a biracial coalition. Efforts such as literacy tests were put in place to suppress the black vote and disrupt that coalition, he said.

Curtis said there appears to be both racial and political reasons for the photo ID requirements. Blacks tend to vote Democratic and as part of a multiracial coalition, he said. As in the past, things such as photo ID have the effect of disrupting that coalition by making it harder for blacks to vote, he said.

Citizens evaluating this should look at both the photo ID requirement and the state’s redistricting plans in which a large number of black voters are packed into majority black districts. Both have the same effect — suppressing the black vote, Curtis said.

“If you’re doing it systematically, that should be very troubling,” he said.

mhewlett@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7326 @mhewlettWSJ