North Carolina would join 13 other states requiring voters to show a photo ID under a bill passed Thursday by the Republican-led N.C. House.
The measure passed 66-48 along party lines, despite Democratic protests that it would decrease turnout. Some critics invoked comparisons to Jim Crow-era voting barriers.
The bill now goes to the Senate, which is expected to endorse it. It would then go to Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
The measure would require voters to show a driver's license or other photo identification or get a new voter ID from their board of elections.
North Carolina is among several states with recently elected Republican governors or legislatures to advance such legislation. Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas recently passed photo ID laws. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley signed a similar law last month.
"It's part of a national trend, a direct result of the Republican sweep at the state level last November," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "Elections have consequences."
Thursday's vote was essentially a foregone conclusion after the bill passed comfortably in a preliminary vote late Wednesday. That didn't prevent an often passionate, two-hour debate.
"This bill strikes at the heart of our democracy," said Rep. Rodney Moore, a Charlotte Democrat.
Minority Leader Joe Hackney of Chapel Hill called it "a partisan exercise." And Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, recalled his pre-Civil Rights effort to fight for the right to vote.
"Now that we are exercising those rights, there are those who want to put the chains back on," he said.
Republicans said the new requirement is nothing more than an effort to ensure the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. They also pointed to what they called popular support. A poll released Thursday by the conservative Rasmussen Reports showed 75 percent of Americans favor the idea.
"Fair elections protect every voter, every party, every participant in the process," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.
Charlotte Republican Rep. Ric Killian said his constituents "simply want to ensure that when they go to the polls their votes are cast and they alone are credited."
Critics, including the AARP, say the ID requirement would lower turnout among seniors, students and African-Americans. There are about 460,000 active N.C. voters who don't have a driver's license, according to researchers. A disproportionate number are black voters, who tend to vote Democratic.
"We understand who this bill is targeted against," said Democratic Rep. Ray Rapp of Madison County. "The name of this bill should be the 'Voter Suppression Bill.'"
Republicans rejected the suggestion.
They said minority voting increased in 2008 after Georgia adopted a photo ID requirement in 2006.
"Let's get real," said GOP Rep. Paul Stam of Wake County. "This is not about voter suppression. This is about finding out who voters are and making sure they vote one time only."