North Carolina legislature likely to pass new voter ID law

North Carolina legislature likely to pass new voter ID law
© Greg Nash

North Carolina state legislators are meeting this week to finalize new requirements that voters show identification at the polls, following years of contentious legislative and court fights and ongoing protests by civil rights groups.

The voter identification bill, introduced in the state Senate late Tuesday, comes after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring an identification at the polls in this month’s midterm elections.

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The constitutional amendment, which passed with 55 percent of the vote, left the details of any new identification law to the General Assembly.

The measure introduced Tuesday is modeled on a similar provision in South Carolina. It would allow registered voters to show one of seven different types of identification at the polls.

Those include standard forms of identification such as a driver’s license or a passport, along with a military or veteran’s identification card and student identification cards from state and private universities and community colleges.

Voters could show an identification even if it has expired within the past year. Voters over the age of 65 would be able to show any expired identification as long as it was unexpired on their 65th birthday.

The measure includes some key concessions to Democrats, who successfully challenged the previous voter ID law in court, including the provision to accept college identifications. Another provision would allow voters to obtain a registration card that includes their photo at the county board of election offices for free.

Some Democrats voiced cautious optimism about the new version of the bill.

“It is a significant improvement over the [bill] that was deemed unconstitutional by the courts,” said state Sen. Ben Clark (D). “We have to go through it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there are no poison pills.”

State Sens. Joyce Krawiec and Warren Daniel, the two lead Republican sponsors of the bill, said their goal was to “secure our elections process, while also making sure that the ID requirement is not an impediment to those who are legally eligible to vote.”

Importantly, the bill is also sponsored by state Sen. Joel Ford, a Democrat from Charlotte who lost his seat in this year’s primary election. Ford said in a statement he would offer an amendment to allow voters to obtain a photo voter identification card during the early voting period.

Democrats have expressed worry that voters who do not have an identification card are disproportionally minorities and those with low incomes. A provision in the new bill would require elections officials to educate minority communities about the new free photo identification card.

The bill still generated angry protests from hundreds who showed up at the General Assembly on Tuesday, holding signs that read “Lame Ducks Go Home.” Those protestors cast the bill as an attempt to stifle minority voters.

“Stop back peddling us toward the time when the black man had no rights. We are drifting back toward Jim Crow,” Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said at the rally Tuesday.

Republicans hold a super majority in both the North Carolina Senate and the Assembly, meaning they do not need input from minority Democrats to pass a bill or to override a potential veto by Gov. Roy Cooper (D).

But Democrats made inroads in this year’s midterm elections that will end those supermajorities when the new legislature is sworn in next year.

Still, Democrats acknowledged that the fight over whether North Carolina will require voters to show identification is over. The only questions that remain surround just how the constitutional amendment would be crafted into a statute.

“That argument is behind us for the most part because citizens have said they want a constitutional amendment,” Clark said.