North Carolina Moves Toward Putting Voter ID on November Ballot

[Image via Hispanically Speaking News]

North Carolina voters could be asked to weigh in this November on a proposed amendment to the state Constitution requiring photo voter ID, thanks to an effort currently underway in the state legislature. Specifically, the State House yesterday gave preliminary approval for the proposal, which still needs one more vote before heading to the Senate. WRAL has more:

House lawmakers voted on party lines 74-44 Monday night to put an amendment on the ballot in November to require a photo ID for in-person voting in North Carolina.

The debate was acrimonious, with Republicans insisting that the measure is needed to prevent voter fraud and ensure election integrity, and Democrats countering that there is no evidence that fraud by voter impersonation is a problem of any significance in North Carolina or any other state.

Rep. Ed Hanes, D-Forsyth, called the measure “boogeyman legislation” responding to a “phantom issue” that Republican lawmakers have been pushing for nine years despite lack of evidence. But one Republican after another insisted they had personally seen cases where people had voted multiple times or where others had voted in another citizen’s name.

“How can you know something is going on if you have no method to detect it?” asked sponsor Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett. “It’s reckless to claim a problem doesn’t exist when we haven’t been looking for it.”

“An overwhelming majority of North Carolinians, regardless of party affiliation, race or gender, believe voter ID is common sense to ensure election integrity,” Lewis said. “We will pass a bill that implements the will of the people while protecting the rights of the people.”

Democrats argued that the measure would impede ballot access for voters who are unable to obtain a photo ID. Voters who were turned away from the polls for that reason under the state’s prior voter ID requirement were disproportionately African-American.

As you might expect, the rhetoric surrounding the vote was fierce:

“To those of us who’ve had to fight and those of us who’ve historically been marginalized as citizens,” said Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, “that’s an impediment in our minds, and that’s why we fight so vociferously against it.”

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, called Democrats’ arguments “hyperbolic political garbage.”

“Nobody in this room is trying to take away somebody’s right to vote,” Speciale insisted.

“People in this body lived through this,” responded Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, “and you can’t understand why it could be bothersome, it could be offensive?”

Opponents of the bill suggested it would suffer the same fate as other recent state law changes, which were struck down by a federal court as violations of the Voting Rights Act – though proponents say this bill avoids those problems:

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, accused Republicans of trying again to implement the “monster law” of election changes, including voter ID, which was passed in 2013. It was overturned by federal courts that ruled it targeted minority voters with “almost surgical precision.”

Jackson predicted federal courts would strike this amendment down, too, on the same grounds.

“You went too far. You poisoned the well,” he said. “You’re stuck with it. That’s your intent.”

“The bill before you is not that law,” Lewis said. “A vote diluted is equal in my mind to a vote denied.”

The final House vote will be taken Tuesday. After that, the proposal moves to the Senate. It would need approval by a three-fifths majority in that chamber to go before voters this fall.

North Carolina’s legislature has been busy on election law changes this year; the chamber passed a law altering the early voting schedule to eliminate the Saturday before Election Day (and was vetoed by the Governor but will face an override vote soon). It’s worth noting that even if the voter ID measure makes it on the ballot, there’s no guarantee it will pass; Minnesota had a similar vote in 2012 and voter ID was defeated after a campaign that looked past the general sense that “everyone needs ID” and focused instead on the practical impact of an ID requirement. You can bet a similar campaign will emerge in North Carolina if this measure makes the ballot. It looks like it will be another long, contentious summer and fall on Tobacco Road. Stay tuned!

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