Politics & Government

Democrats' efforts to revise voter ID proposal rejected

This 2016 photo shows North Carolina voter ID rules at a voting precinct. A federal court struck down voter ID laws in the state.
This 2016 photo shows North Carolina voter ID rules at a voting precinct. A federal court struck down voter ID laws in the state. AP

A controversial change proposed for the state constitution gained momentum Thursday as Republican legislators demonstrated their continued commitment to requiring voters show photo identification at the polls.

Voters in November would be asked if photo ID for in-person voting should be a constitutional requirement. Legislators would have the power to make the rules, which they could do any time after the election.

As they voted to move the proposal to a vote of the full House, Republicans in a House committee knocked down two Democratic proposals, one of which was to wait until next year to write the photo ID rules. Democrats hope to win enough seats in the November election to eliminate Republicans' supermajorities in next year's session.

Rep. Darren Jackson, House Democrats' leader, said the change would prevent a "lame duck General Assembly" from passing a bill. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and an architect of the state's election laws, said the amendment wasn't necessary.

Supporters said requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls offers insurance against voter fraud.

House Speaker Tim Moore told the House committee debating proposal that voter ID is "a common-sense idea we can do to ensure election integrity."

Civil rights groups, voting rights groups, and the state AARP oppose putting the question on the ballot, saying photo ID requirements will keep African-Americans, elderly people, and people with low incomes from voting.

"It will forever harm eligible North Carolina voters," said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the state NAACP.

The NAACP has threatened to sue. The civil rights advocacy group Color of Change is running a "reject racism" campaign to pressure Apple and Amazon to disqualify North Carolina as a candidate for new campuses if the legislature decides to put the photo ID question to voters.

Color of Change said it will run an ad in The News & Observer on Friday. The group ran ads in West Coast papers earlier this month.

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The other failed Democratic proposal would have required people who vote by mail attach a copy of a photo ID. Republicans have resisted imposing photo ID requirements on people who vote by mail, who are disproportionately white compared to in-person voters.

Rep. John Blust, a Guilford County Republican, said it wouldn't make sense.

"I don't see how anything can be gained by this," he said.

An audit of 2016 general election votes found one case of voter impersonation at a polling place, where a woman impersonated her deceased mother.

Thirty-four states require voters show some form of ID. Half ask for photos, while the other half allow non-photo IDs.

Mississippi and Missouri have voter ID requirements in their constitutions. Arkansas has a proposed constitutional amendment on its ballot this year that would require photo IDs for people voting in person or when casting absentee ballots.

Glenn Spradling, an Onslow County precinct worker, said people want to show IDs.

"People are glad to show it to you," he said. "I don't know why people think they can't get ID. The only people are the elderly who are in rest homes and their family isn't keeping up with their ID." There are ways to fix that problem, he said.

Critics say that Republicans are trying to reinstate the voting restrictions struck down by a panel of federal judges in 2016, when they wrote that the state's 2013 election law, which included a photo ID requirement, targeted African-Americans "with almost surgical precision."

The ballot question is a blanket approval for photo ID, and it would be up to legislators to fill in the details. It is not known what kinds of identification legislators would require. Republicans want to come back to write the rules before the year ends and a new legislature takes office.

"The constitutional amendment would basically be authorizing this body to do whatever it pleases," said Rep. Robert Reives II, a Sanford Democrat.

Before the 2013 law was overturned, some elderly people without drivers licenses said they had trouble getting identification the law required. The law did not allow college IDs to be used for voting. Some college students, including those who had voted in previous elections, were not allowed to cast ballots in the 2016 primary.

The rules for photo ID would have to follow federal laws, Lewis said.

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Bonner: 919-829-4821: @Lynn_Bonner