The North Carolina Influencer Series

Does requiring a photo ID to vote discriminate against minorities? NC leaders weigh in.

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

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The North Carolina Influencer series

The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun in Durham are launching a conversation between readers and important thought leaders throughout North Carolina.

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More than half of North Carolina leaders who responded to a new survey said requiring photo ID to vote discriminates against minorities.

Voters across the state will see six constitutional amendments on the ballot for the November election. One amendment would require voters to show photo identification in future elections.

Sixty North Carolina leaders in education, politics, business and advocacy were asked open-ended questions about race relations in the state as part of the NC Influencers series for The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.

They were asked if race relations had changed in North Carolina within the last 10 years and whether they had experienced discrimination because of their race. They were also asked about showing identification at the polls.

Among the 49 leaders who responded, 29 said requiring a photo ID to vote would pose a threat of discriminating against minorities. Eleven said it would not pose a threat, while nine didn’t clearly say one way or the other.

Their answers fell along racial, gender and political lines.

Among African-American respondents, 85 percent said a photo ID requirement would pose a threat of discrimination against minority voters, compared to 60 percent of Hispanic respondents and 48 percent of white respondents.

Sixty-eight percent of women and 50 percent of men said the requirement could lead to racial discrimination.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of Democrats, 9 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of unaffiliated respondents said so.

Respondents who said a photo ID requirement would be discriminatory argued the move would disenfranchise poor, minority and older voters because it would create a barrier to the polls. Most said people of color and the poor are less likely to have a photo ID or are less likely to meet voter ID requirements.

Bree Newsome, an activist who removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of a South Carolina courthouse in 2015, likened a voter ID requirement to old measures used to keep African-Americans from voting.

“Voter ID laws are the modern equivalent of poll taxes, literacy tests and other methods of voter suppression that have been used in the past to deny Black Americans voting rights,” Newsome wrote in her survey response. “In-person voter fraud is so rare as to be virtually non-existent, yet the threat of cyber attacks on our election systems is an imminent danger. The history of racist voter suppression in the south combined with the fact that the GOP is more focused on passing voter ID laws than investigating Russian interference makes clear the real motive.”

Helping people get IDs

Currently, North Carolina voters don’t have to show a photo ID when they register to vote or when they cast their ballot. The General Assembly passed a law in 2013 that limited voting options and required photo ID, starting with elections in 2016. But federal appellate judges struck down the law, saying it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

If voters approve the constitutional amendment in November, the Republican-led General Assembly will likely write a new election law before the new legislature takes office in January, The News & Observer has reported. Legislators have not given any details about what type of ID would be required, if the amendment is approved.

Thirty-four states require some form of ID to vote.

The 11 survey respondents who said they were in favor of a photo ID requirement in North Carolina generally said the change would not be discriminatory, especially if the state helps everyone obtain the proper identification.

“Voter ID laws apply equally to all people regardless of race, and have been upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in other states,” wrote Art Pope, chief executive of Variety Wholesalers. “So on its face, it (is) not discriminatory. Voter ID laws should not have a discriminatory impact when provisions are made to provide assistance to obtain the required ID from the state at no cost to non-drivers and the indigent. The effect of ID laws on voter participation has proven to be either tiny or nonexistent.”

Thomas Stith, former chief of staff for former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, said the measure wouldn’t affect voter turnout. Instead, it would protect the integrity of the election process, he said.

“America suffers with a much larger, more pervasive issue: voter apathy caused by a dearth of credible candidates representing the interests of the people,” Stith wrote. “There is wide-spread hopelessness that voting won’t address our problems. This is where we need to concentrate our efforts.”

Voter fraud

An audit by the N.C. Board of Elections found that of the 4.8 million North Carolinians who cast a ballot in November 2016, 508 were ineligible to vote. The agency emphasized those cases weren’t necessarily considered voter fraud because there may not have been evidence those voters knew they were committing a crime, The News & Observer reported.

Patrick Woodie, president and CEO of the NC Rural Center, said voter fraud in the state is minimal.

“Instead of expending time and resources to implement laws that could potentially disenfranchise a large group of eligible voters for minimal protections, North Carolina should instead work to make sure all North Carolina’s legally eligible voters are registered and better educated about things like the location of their local polling place or their rights as a voter,” Woodie wrote in his survey response.

Nancy Webb and Gavin Off contributed.

Camila Molina: 919-829-4538, @Cmolina__

About the series

This is the latest in a series of surveys The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun will conduct with the Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to North Carolinians. This report focused on the issue of photo ID to vote as part of a survey of open-ended questions on race relations in North Carolina.

Next week, look for a report on immigration. We need your voice to guide our coverage and direct future questions we ask our influencers, including our next topic, which will be on the state’s balance of power. Please fill out the form below.

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