Politics & Government

Voter ID decision could go on the 2018 ballot

Voters may be asked this November if the state constitution should require identification from people who cast ballots at polling places.

Republicans in the state House on Thursday proposed placing the question of voter ID on the ballot in November two years after federal courts struck down the requirement, which was part of a broader law on voter restrictions.

House Speaker Tim Moore is the lead sponsor of the bill. Republicans have enough votes to put the question on the ballot without Democrats' help.

A ballot question on voter ID is expected to help draw conservative voters to the polls in November, when Republicans anticipate losing seats in the Legislature.

"This common sense measure to secure the integrity of our elections is supported by the vast majority of North Carolinians who know protecting our democracy should be one of lawmakers' highest priorities," Moore said in a statement.

Polls show that voter ID is popular. A Gallup Poll from August 2016 found 80 percent support for voter ID, with 95 percent approval from Republicans, 83 percent from independents, and 63 percent from Democrats.

Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore, left, speaks at a press conference on March 30, 2017. House Speaker pro tem Rep. Sarah Stevens listens at right. Chris Seward cseward@newsobserver.com

A federal court overturned North Carolina's voter ID law in July 2016, saying its restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The law called for voters to show specific kinds of photo identification. It also prohibited voters from registering to vote and casting ballots on the same day. It sought to eliminate out-of-precinct voting as well as preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds who would turn 18 by Election Day. And it eliminated a week of early voting.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to revive the law.

The ballot question is simple, so it would be up to the legislature to fill in the details on what kinds of IDs would be acceptable. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and one of the constitutional amendment sponsors, said the legislature would pass a bill to define how the process would work.

Seven states have strict voter ID requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. North Carolina is one of 17 states that does not require voters to show photo identification.

"This latest proposal by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly isn’t about protecting our elections. It is about suppressing the vote," U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield said in a statement.

"Their continued and thinly-veiled efforts to make it harder and less likely that some North Carolinians will vote are shameful. North Carolinians are tired of the political games and we will continue to aggressively protect the right to vote wherever it is challenged."

The Color of Change, which says it is the largest online racial justice organization, is pressuring Apple and Amazon not to locate in Raleigh if the legislature pushes forward with the proposed amendment.

The group said it started running ads in San Jose and Seattle newspapers that say "Amazon & Apple should reject racism, not reward it."

A report last year by the state elections board found that 508 ineligible voters cast ballots in November 2016. A vast majority of those, 441, were ineligible because they appeared to be serving active felony sentences. Forty-one voters were not U.S. citizens, and 24 people voted twice.

Two people who voted pretended to be a deceased relative. One woman who was not identified cast a ballot for her deceased mother because her mother wanted her to vote for Donald Trump. She was not prosecuted. In the other case of voter impersonation, a woman signed the absentee ballot of her deceased husband.

About 4.8 million people voted in the 2016 general election.

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Bonner: 919-829-4821: @Lynn_Bonner