Voter ID Amendment Headed Toward House Vote

[This article mentions the League of Women Voters as one of the groups that presented a statement opposing a voter ID requirement. Paula Jennings presented the statement at the legislative hearing on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Wake County.]

Published online at @NCCapitol; by Matthew Burns & Laura Leslie - June 21, 2018

Raleigh, N.C. — Despite concerns from several groups that elderly, young, poor and minority voters might unnecessarily be denied the right to vote, a House committee on Thursday approved adding language to the state constitution requiring photo identification to vote.

House Bill 1092, which cleared the House Rules Committee on a 21-9 vote, is expected to go before the full House on Monday. If passed by a three-fifths majority in both the House and the Senate, the proposed amendment would appear on the November ballot.

"Right now, our system is simply so broken, that it is so easy for someone to go in and vote and not be that individual," House Speaker Tim Moore, the lead sponsor on the bill, told lawmakers in an unusual appearance before a House committee.

Moore, R-Cleveland, noted that identity theft has become widespread in recent years and that early voting allows people to go anywhere the the county to cast a ballot instead of a local polling site where staffers may know who's who. "Our state must not tolerate anyone's votes not counting" because of fraud, he said.

But the NAACP, Democracy North Carolina, the League of Women Voters, AARP, the North Carolina Justice Center and Common Cause North Carolina all said requiring IDs would cause more problems than they would solve.

"[The] bill will make it harder for thousands of North Carolinians to vote," said Bill Rowe, general counsel for the N.C. Justice Center.

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the state NAACP, said 1,400 eligible voters – mostly poor and black – were turned away from the polls in March 2016, the only time voter ID has been used in North Carolina.

"This bill has one motivation: Eliminate and chill the votes of certain voters," Spearman said.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, countered that the GOP has no reason to suppress votes.

"Quite frankly, the party that's winning the majority of elections has no need to suppress votes," Woodhouse said.

Opponents noted that, in contrast to the many people who don't have IDs, cases of voter fraud are few.

An audit by the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement following the November 2016 election found only one case of voter fraud that an ID might have prevented – out of 4.8 million ballots cast.

"Security and access need not be in tension with one another, and I would push back very hard on the idea that this measure speaks to the core security issues that our elections systems face," said Tomas Lopez, executive director of Democracy N.C. "This is purely a ploy, a solution in search of a problem."

ID proponents insisted voter fraud happens more often than people think, citing anecdotes of a van full of people showing up at different polling places and a woman casting three ballots before she was told to leave a polling site.

"We cannot permit those committing voter fraud to steal our elections," said Jerry Reinhold of Fayetteville. "Give North Carolina citizens a choice to choose fair and honest elections."

"Our voters deserve the same assurances of election integrity as our neighboring states and the 30-plus other states who have already moved forward with this [voter ID] kind of approach," said Dan Barry of Union County.

Although a majority of states have laws calling for some sort of voter ID, only Mississippi and Missouri have such language in their state constitutions.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, only seven states have a strict photo ID requirement, while another nine allow some sort of workaround for people to cast a ballot if they don't have an ID. Twenty-two states only request an ID at the polls, and most of them don't require a photo.

Voting rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers criticized the fact that House Bill 1092 doesn't spell out which IDs would be acceptable at the polls.

"Right now, the simple language is they could bring in a photo identification with a picture from Thanksgiving and write their name on it," said Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a 2013 state law requiring voter IDs, saying that it targeted black voters "with almost surgical precision." The judges noted, among other things, that the legislature had data in hand showing black voters were less likely than white voters to have the sort of identification required under that law.

"Voters are being asked to vote on a confusingly vague and permanent addition to the state constitution enshrining discrimination without telling them what the voting change would be," Spearman said.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, acknowledged that adding a voter ID provision to the constitution would allow lawmakers to bring back the 2013 rules and possibly sidestep a legal challenge. But he said that isn't the intent of legislative leaders.

"I'm confident we'll be able to work up a system that voters understand, that voters support and that will pass constitutional muster," Lewis said.

Bill sponsors already added the possibility for exceptions to the ID requirement to the measure in response to concerns voiced by longtime General Assembly staffer Gerry Cohen, Lewis noted.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, tried to introduce an amendment to prevent lawmakers from coming back into session in December – after some may have lost their November re-election bids – to write the rules for voter ID. But Republicans defeated it.

The GOP also beat back Jackson's effort to make photo IDs required for absentee voters as well. Elections experts have said fraud is much more likely on mail-in ballots.