LAURINBURG – A federal judge’s refusal to delay implementation of changes required by North Carolina’s new voting law has mixed support in Scotland County, and opponents, led by the state NAACP, say they will continue to fight the law in federal court.
In his 125-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder did side with the NAACP and two other plaintiffs on one point — he denied a move by the State of North Carolina to dismiss three lawsuits which contend the new law is unconstitutional.
A civil trial in federal court is set for next July in Raleigh.
Comparing the new law to now-defunct voting requirements that were ruled unconstitutional, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, the Rev. Terence Williams cited Section Five of the Voting Rights Law of 1965.
“That section of the federal voting rights act states that no state may make any changes to its voting laws without first consulting with the U.S. Department of Justice,’’ said Williams, who chairs the NAACP’s Scotland County chapter.
“This is tragic because this new law has a disproportionate effect on poor and minority voters,’’ Williams said.
Mark Schenck, chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party, disagreed.
“I don’t see how that’s possible,’’ said Schenck. “I just don’t see the problem. I think the new law is fair. I don’t see any way to prove that this somehow has an adverse effect on poor and minority voters. This new law is needed. It’s an improvement over what we’ve had.’’
The biggest change in the new law requires voters to show an approved photo identification when claiming a ballot, a measure that does not take full effect until 2016.
“I certainly do not have a problem with’’ being required to show an approved photo identification, said the Rev. Willie Hunt, who votes in Robeson County, but shops in Laurinburg.
“Requiring a photo identification is something we should have already been doing,’’ Hunt said Wednesday as he prepared to enter a Laurinburg store. “If you have to present a photo I.D. to cash a check, you should have to do it to vote. Voting is at least as important as cashing a check.”
But Louise Armstrong, of Wagram, doesn’t see a need for the change.
“I don’t think you should have to do that,’’ Armstrong said. “It hasn’t been that way in the past.’’
Pearl Norton of Laurinburg concurred.
“If you’ve been voting in the same place and they know who you are, why should you have to have a photo identification?’’ Norton said. “Of course, it’s not a problem for me. I have my driver’s license and I carry my voter registration card with me.’’
Starting in 2016, presenting a voter registration card without valid photo identification will not be enough to obtain a ballot under the new law. Although in effect for the May Primary earlier this year, strict enforcement will not begin until year after next.
Voters without a valid state driver’s license will have to obtain a picture identification from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which will be issued free of charge.
“Those without a valid driver’s license who need an identification card can just come into any DMV office and ask for it,’’ Larry Cash, an examiner at Laurinburg’s license agency. “We take their picture and the I.D. card is mailed to them. It is to be used for voting purposes only. ’’
Cash said those seeking the voting identification should bring in their voter registration card and some proof of residence. Otherwise, the voter must sign a legal declaration, similar to an affidavit, to get the photo identification. This was done in the May primaries for voters who showed up without a picture ID.
Other provisions of the new law, which was signed Friday by Gov. Pat McCrory soon after the federal court ruling by Schroeder, eliminates same-day registration during early voting, reduces the early-voting period by a week and eliminates the counting of ballots cast on election day outside of a person’s home precinct.
Political parties also can send in more observers to monitor precincts under the new law, a provision that apparently has little or no opposition. Proponents of the Republican-sponsored law said it will ensure elections are carried out fairly and will discourage fraud at the ballot box.
Opposing the new law “doesn’t make any sense,’’ said Jim Herring of Laurinburg, also shopping Wednesday in Laurinburg. “People who are against it must have something to hide.’’
But Williams said he and others opposing the new law will continue to fight in the courts and at the ballot box.
“We have to stop these attacks on the voting rights of the poor and minorities,’’ he said.
No matter the eventual outcome of legal challenges, Dell Parker, director of the Scotland County Board of Elections, said Wednesday that “the law was passed and we follow the law. It’s as simple as that.’’
J.L. Pate can be reached at 910-506-3171.