Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session
The election is over but the battle over voter ID continued Tuesday as hundreds of people gathered to protest in front of the state Legislative Building.
Legislators are drafting a voter ID bill after it passed as a constitutional amendment during the midterm elections earlier this month with more than 55 percent of the vote. A previous voter ID bill from 2013 was struck down in 2016 by a panel of judges who said it targeted African Americans with “discriminatory intent.” The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision.
Some of the top questions that legislators will have to answer in the coming days include whether student IDs will be accepted at the polls, whether expired IDs will be allowed, and what the state will do to help people without an acceptable photo ID get one in order to avoid being disenfranchised.
A Republican-backed Senate bill, which also picked up a Democratic sponsor in Sen. Joel Ford, was filed Tuesday. The bill contained some of the same measures that were in the 2013 version of the bill, but in other cases it was less strict.
What the bill would do
For example, the new version of the bill would allow college IDs and employee badges from state or local government agencies to be used as voter IDs.
Unlike the 2013 version of the bill, it would also allow voters to use IDs that are expired, as long as they expired within a year of the election or after the voter’s 65th birthday.
Some other notable details of the bill include:
▪ Election officials must “provide educational materials ... to underserved and minority communities” regarding details about the changes, how they can get a free photo ID and all the different ways they can vote. The state would also be required to mail information to all registered voters, at multiple times over the next two years, telling them about the new voter ID laws and also about the option that voters have to vote by mail, which does not require an ID.
▪ People who show up to vote without an acceptable ID could still cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted later as long as they returned with an acceptable ID.
▪ Information about the legal changes would be distributed around the state in English, Spanish, “and other languages deemed necessary.”
▪ Everyone whose driver’s licenses are suspended, canceled, disqualified or revoked would be sent a replacement ID so that their legal issues would not prevent them from voting. They wouldn’t have to apply for or pay for the new ID; it would be sent automatically.
▪ People who live in an area hit by a major natural disaster within 60 days of an election wouldn’t have to present a photo ID to vote. During both the 2016 and 2018 elections, Hurricane Matthew and then Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in the weeks just before the election.
The bill also would allow each of the state’s political parties to appoint up to 100 poll-watchers who could go to voting places anywhere in the state to watch for potential problems during voting and help voters.
Currently the parties can only send observers to polling places in the county where they live. Republican Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, a key architect of election laws for the past several years, said that change would help both Democrats and Republicans by allowing them to have people at the polls in counties where it’s hard for them to find local volunteers.
‘Lame ducks go home’
Protest organizers handed out signs that said “lame ducks go home” — a reference to the legislature coming back to write the voter ID laws now, in a lame-duck session while the numerous Republicans who lost their re-election bids earlier this month are still in office.
In January, after the new Democratic legislators are sworn in, Republicans will lose their veto-proof supermajority in the legislature. While they still will control a majority, they won’t be able to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes as easily as they have for the last two years.
The protest Tuesday was organized by the North Carolina NAACP and voter rights groups from across the state.
“This Republican extremist legislature is unconstitutionally constituted because of racially discriminatory gerrymandering,” Barber said. “They cheated. Let’s get that clear.”
However, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s spokesman Pat Ryan said the people have spoken on voter ID and protesters should acknowledge that. The amendment passed with 55.5 percent of the vote.
“Voter ID is in the North Carolina Constitution because the people of this state support it overwhelmingly, and Republicans will follow through on that mandate,” Ryan said in an emailed statement. He also criticized a lawsuit the NAACP has filed opposing the amendment: “It’s a great irony that the liberal activist organization that planned today’s protest is asking a judge to invalidate the votes for the amendment while at the same time accusing us of voter suppression.”
Barber said the only purpose of this current session should be to help Hurricane Florence flooding victims.
Aside from the “extremists who call themselves Republican,” Barber criticized five former North Carolina governors who united against two other proposed constitutional amendments prior to the elections.
“The former Republican governors and Democratic governors should have been just as much against that bill to allow photo ID as to take the right from the governor,” Barber said. “It is bad to take the rights from the governor, but it is worse to take the rights from the people.”
“We want to let the legislators know we are watching, that we are listening, that we are paying attention,” Gerald Givens, president-elect of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP chapter, said in an interview. “And most important, when it comes to election time, we will hold them accountable.”
After the speakers were done, the protesters walked into the General Assembly with posters in hand.
The protesters were hoping to make their presence known during Tuesday’s session but some were surprised when it was over in 30 minutes.
The demonstrators didn’t go straight home. Instead, they began to sing, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” in the middle of the Legislative Building.
Later, the bill cleared its first vote Tuesday afternoon when a Senate committee approved it on a voice vote with no dissent.
How much voter fraud?
In North Carolina, voter fraud is rare. In 2016, out of 4.8 million votes cast, state investigators later said they found 508 ballots that shouldn’t have been counted, about 0.01 percent of votes cast. Officials said the improper votes did not affect the result of any election that year.
Of those 508 cases of suspected voter fraud, nearly all were cases of felons voting while on probation or parole — a type of voter fraud that ID requirements won’t be able to stop. One of the cases involved someone voting in person in the name of someone else, which is the type of fraud voter ID could stop.
There were also 19 suspected cases of people who were legal residents, but not citizens, voting in the 2016 election, which earlier this year prompted the Trump administration to seek criminal charges against them.