NC state judge's denies most motions in voter ID lawsuit, means summer trial expected

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — A North Carolina state judge has declined for now to strike down or uphold photo identification requirements to vote in person starting in 2016 — keeping the path clear for a summer trial in a lawsuit.

In a ruling provided Friday to case attorneys, Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan denied a motion by voters and advocacy groups who sued and believe the voter ID mandate is unconstitutional because legislators created another qualification to cast a ballot. But Morgan also refused to accept all the arguments of attorneys representing the state and State Board of Elections to throw out the lawsuit.

With the refusals for "judgment on the pleadings" — meaning arguments with essentially no additional evidence — Morgan is indicating factual issues between the court opponents must be resolved. A trial already had been set for July 13.

The lawsuit is one of four complaints filed soon after Gov. Pat McCrory signed an elections overhaul law in August 2013 that contained several voting changes. Three were filed in federal court. The state lawsuit only addresses voter ID.

The federal lawsuits also challenge other provisions approved by the Republican-led legislature and already implemented. They include reducing the number of early-voting days and repealing same-day registration during the early-voting period. Those cases are set for trial this summer, too.

Barring the elimination of voter ID, a registered voter will have to show one of six types of qualified identification cards before voting at a precinct or early-voting station. Older adults can use expired IDs, and those without them can apply for a free ID card from the Division of Motor Vehicles. State attorneys contend ID is an extension of voter registration laws the state Constitution allows to confirm a person's identity.

Morgan also said he can't properly rule at this time whether voter ID places an undue burden on the right to vote or purposefully discriminates against black voters.

"We're going to show how this law has a negative impact on voters of color and voters that do not have the resources to obtain an ID," Melvin Montford with the A. Philip Randolph Institute of North Carolina, a civil rights group, said in a release. The League of Women Voters of North Carolina also is a plaintiff.

Morgan did dismiss arguments that requiring a voter ID violates constitutional demands against property qualifications to vote and for elections to be "free."

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the ruling. State elections board spokesman Josh Lawson said Friday that board officials would continue to educate voters on the photo ID requirement. The board planned to send more than 200,000 letters in March to voters who may lack proper photo ID. North Carolina has more than 6.3 million registered voters.

The trial on the consolidated federal cases could begin as early as July 6, leading to the potential for rescheduling either trial.

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