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Federal trial next month won’t address NC voter ID mandate

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal trial next month on several provisions of North Carolina’s 2013 elections law won’t consider challenges to the state’s upcoming voter identification requirement in light of recent changes to the mandate, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder decided that claims against the photo ID provision set to begin in 2016 will be kept out of the July 13 trial in Winston-Salem and considered later. Schroeder’s order came barely a week after the legislature finalized a bill creating a method by which people who can’t obtain a photo ID before next year can cast a lawful ballot.

Other claims that still will be tried on time include accusations that minority citizens will be disproportionately harmed by such changes as reducing early voting days by one week, ending same-day registration during early voting and rejecting Election Day ballots cast in a voter’s incorrect precinct. Republicans in charge of the legislature, who championed the law, reject those claims.

The plaintiffs — including the state NAACP, League of Women Voters and the U.S. Justice Department — had requested more time to assess the new voter ID law but rejected Schroeder’s proposal to move the entire trial to September, according to his order.

“While we believe that any photo ID requirement is unconstitutional and disproportionately burdensome for voters of color, it will take time to comprehensively review North Carolina’s last-minute changes,” said Donita Judge, an attorney for the Advancement Project.

The group’s lawyers are representing NAACP and some voters. “We will continue our legal fight until all of these provisions, including the voter ID requirement, are eliminated,” Judge added.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Gov. Pat McCrory and the state consider the voter ID claims now moot and are considering whether to ask to have them thrown out. Schroeder, in his order dated last Friday, set a July 8 deadline for such a request. Otherwise, all parties in the three consolidated federal lawsuits are supposed to tell Schroeder by mid-August whether the voter ID claims should still go to trial.

The 2013 law required anyone who shows up at an early-voting center or Election Day precinct starting next year to show one of eight qualifying photo IDs for a person’s vote to count.

The change signed into law by McCrory last week says voters with a “reasonable impediment” to getting an ID can fill out a form and provide other identifying information to ensure their vote will count. The law also will allow for more people to show their expired ID cards and be qualified to vote.

Schroeder may not rule from the bench at the close of the July trial, expected to last at least three weeks. The order gives the sides 14 days after the trial to offer proposed findings and conclusions to the judge.

A separate lawsuit in state court challenging the photo ID requirement alone and set for trial this summer also may be delayed in light of the new law.

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