Battle over North Carolina voter identification law moves ahead

Voter identification has been a longstanding goal for North Carolina Republicans. In 2013, just after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, the state legislature controlled by Republicans passed a bill substantially rewriting election laws. It included a voter identification requirement that was among the strictest in the nation, accepting only a narrow set of government issued identification. The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit eventually struck down the law.

Instead of enacting another bill, Republicans placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year. The measure simply stated that a photo identification would be required to cast a ballot in North Carolina elections but left the details up to the legislature. Voters approved the measure 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, so the question is not if there will be voter identification in North Carolina, but rather how it will look.

The legislature convened recently to consider enabling legislation and took a much more expansive view this time. Unlike 2013, the legislature held extensive public hearings and sought information from entities such as private colleges and community colleges on requirements for issuing their student identification. Both the state House and the Senate devoted a substantial amount of committee time to vetting and amending the legislation. Another new development in the legislation was that both the House and Senate versions of the bill had Democratic cosponsors.

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The bill that received final legislative approval provides that passports, drivers licenses, military and veteran identification, government employee identification, college identification, and tribal identification, as well as identification cards issued to those who do not drive can be used to vote. The law also provides that county election boards must issue a photo identification at no charge to any voter who requests one. In one of several concessions to Democrats, the bill was amended to add that the free forms of identification will be made available during early voting.

The legislation also includes procedures for someone without a photo identification to cast a provisional ballot that can later be validated with one of the accepted forms of identification. Just before final passage, the growing absentee ballot scandal in southeastern North Carolina led to a provision requiring a copy of a photo identification to accompany mailed in absentee ballots. The new voter legislation placed North Carolina among the “nonstrict” states. Two Democrats supported the bill on final passage in the House, while three Democrats voted for it in the Senate.

Senate Democrats raised concerns about the identification requirement being in effect for a possible new election in the 9th District. The initial expectation was that the law would be implemented during municipal elections next year. However, the election fraud investigation in the 9th District may result in a new election. The photo identification requirement is effective once the bill becomes law, so it follows that it would be in effect for a mandated rematch in the 9th District. The likely date for a special election would be prior to most of the implementation deadlines in the legislation. To address this issue, the state legislature included language in a separate bill to exempt a new 9th District election from the voter identification bill. The fate of that law has yet to be determined.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the voter identification bill, calling it a “solution in search of a problem.” Despite the constitutional amendment, voter identification continues to be a hot button issue and the Democratic base would have been highly critical of the governor if he allowed this bill to become law without a veto. Legislative leaders have indicated that they will move quickly to override the veto. The override is scheduled on the calendar this week. Republicans maintain their supermajorities until next month, so they will have no trouble obtaining the vote for an override.

This battle will soon move to the courts with an attempt to enjoin the implementation of the law until litigation is complete. In an ironic twist, the legislation that was sought for years to root out alleged voter fraud in North Carolina may be derailed by real election fraud in the state. The possibility of a special election in the 9th District may well be the hook the courts use to hang the voter identification law out to dry for a while.

Bruce Thompson, an attorney based in North Carolina, serves as a member of the Democratic National Finance Committee. He previously served as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump Ex-FBI official: 'Links and coordination' with Russia happen everyday Ex-FBI agent: Americans should be 'disgusted' by Russian interference in Mueller report MORE and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Time for Democrats to accept reality Air Force Academy will no longer allow transgender students to enroll MORE. He has served as legal counsel to numerous state and federal candidates.