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There's still a final challenge to NC's photo ID voting law. The federal trial starts Monday

Voting sign in English and Spanish.
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Federal Judge Loretta Biggs will hear arguments starting Monday in a challenge to North Carolina's photo ID law.

For more than a decade, one of the biggest fights in North Carolina politics has been whether or not it’s constitutional to make voters show a photo ID before voting.

This Monday, in Winston-Salem, a federal judge will hear arguments in one of the final legal challenges to photo ID requirements — and will decide whether it’s discriminatory against minority voters.

The NAACP is suing to block the requirement. Kat Roblez is an attorney with Forward Justice, representing the group at next week’s trial.

“We allege there was a discriminatory intent in the passage of this law,” Roblez said. “And I think we can see the detriment is that a lot of people’s votes didn’t count.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly had placed photo ID on the ballot in 2018 as a constitutional amendment. Voters approved it easily, with 55% in support.

The March primary was the first statewide election since the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in early 2023 that photo ID was constitutional.

WFAE has looked closely at the impact of photo ID in the March election.

For starters, 1.8 million people voted. Of those, 473 people had their ballots not counted because they didn’t have photo ID. That means the law didn’t impact 99.97% of voters, or one voter had their ballot not counted out of every 3,805 voters.

Andy Jackson with the conservative John Locke Foundation said it’s highly unlikely photo ID will impact the result of a statewide election — even one as close as the 2020 state Supreme Court race when Republican Paul Newby defeated Democrat Cheri Beasley by less than 500 votes.

“Would this have made a 401 vote difference? Probably not,” he said.

The March 5 primary was the first statewide test of North Carolina's voter ID law. Of the 1.8 million people who voted, 473 had their ballots not counted because of photo ID.

But Roblez said that the impact in November could be greater.

She noted that voters who come out for a primary election tend to be the most engaged and may be more aware that they need photo ID. When turnout may be three times as high for the presidential election, less regular voters may show up without ID.

“I also think we can’t really quantify the number of people who didn’t show up because their understanding of the message was you need an ID to vote and they didn't have one,” she said.

Defining the disparity

The heart of the NAACP case is that photo ID disproportionately impacts minority voters. That’s what previous court rulings blocking voter ID requirements found.

WFAE analyzed those 473 voters whose ballots were rejected in March and found that, yes, Democratic voters and Black voters were slightly more likely to have their ballots rejected.

There were at least 298 white voters whose ballots didn’t count and 74 Black voters whose ballots were rejected.

That translates to one in every 4,700 white voters couldn’t cast ballots because they didn’t have a photo ID, compared with one in every 3,600 Black voters.

That’s a disparity. But with an arguably small number of actual voters who were impacted, how significant is it?

For instance, if 17 additional Black voters statewide would have had their ballots counted, the disparity would have vanished.

From a partisan breakdown, Republicans had one rejected ballot for every 4,100 GOP voters who came to the polls. For Democrats, it was one rejected ballot for every 3,200 Democratic voters

Roblez said one person disenfranchised is too many.

“I think it’s dangerous to say there is a number of votes to not count that just won’t matter,” she said.

She said it’s especially problematic because there’s been no evidence that in-person voter impersonation is a problem. A state board of elections audit of the 2016 election found just two cases of people voting pretending to be someone else.

“There’s no real justification or any evidence on the other side that it’s necessary to have this law,” she said. “ What are the benefits and what are the detriments of having this?”


Republicans have said that photo ID is popular and that a 2018 vote to make it part of the state constitution passed with 55% of the vote.

Jackson notes that the modern Republican Party has changed under former President Donald Trump. High turnout helped the GOP in 2020.

“There’s been demographic shifts within the party in the Trump era,” he said. “Republicans have assumed that (low propensity voters) were Democrats. But if you look at provisional ballots, which is a marker for voters who have a problem with the system for one reason or another, Trump won provisionals in 2020.”

One reason fewer than 500 people had their ballots rejected is that voters can fill out a photo ID exception form. The form allows them to check several boxes that give them a reason for not having a photo ID, such as not having transportation to get an ID or that they simply lost it.

In the primary, most of the people without an ID filled out that form, and roughly 90% had their provisional ballots counted.

Voters could also vote a provisional ballot and then come back to their county elections board and show a photo ID. Most didn’t do that, and their ballots were rejected.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs is hearing the case. The North Carolina Attorney General’s Office is defending the North Carolina Board of Elections.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.