Bench trial begins May 6 in federal voter ID case



(The Center Square) – North Carolinians at the ballot box in 2018 definitively declared a desire for photo identification when voting and the state Board of Elections has asked for a federal lawsuit involving it to be dismissed through summary judgment.

A federal judge in Winston-Salem, however, says she’ll conduct a bench trial anyway, starting a week before the state’s primary runoffs.

Civil rights groups say the law is racially biased. U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs, in ruling the trial will proceed, wrote “genuine disputes” over facts exist. She also says litigants “dispute the inferences which may reasonably be drawn from key undisputed facts.”

The trial date start is May 6. The second primary, or runoffs, are May 14.

North Carolina voters approved voter identification at the polls in 2018 through a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. In those midterms, 55.49% of nearly 3.7 million votes were in favor.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper tried to block the will of those voters in state court by initiating litigation to block implementation. It was last April when the state Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, issued an opinion that reversed an earlier choice by the same bench with a different makeup of justices.

Biggs in 2019 issued a preliminary injunction for this federal case. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said she put too much emphasis on the General Assembly’s past activity and reversed her decision.

In 2021, the state Board of Elections – a five-member panel with majority Democrats as selected by Cooper – sought a summary judgment, one that would have implemented the law without evidence or testimony in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has also already been involved, in 2022 overturning Biggs’ choice to not allow Republican lawmakers to join the case and defend the law they helped craft.

Last week, Super Tuesday became the first Election Day with the choice of voters on voter ID from 2018. According to Ballotpedia, only 16 states do not require some form of identification to vote; 23 require a photo ID.

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