Under the Dome

NC House leader defends voter ID changes

Bill Bailey checks his ballot as he votes at Johnston County Precinct 10a at the Clayton Fire Station in Clayton on Nov. 5, 2014.
Bill Bailey checks his ballot as he votes at Johnston County Precinct 10a at the Clayton Fire Station in Clayton on Nov. 5, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

Responding to criticism that legislators sharply weakened the state’s voter ID law last week, House Rules Chairman David Lewis posted a 1,000-word “open letter” Monday defending the changes.

The House and Senate quickly approved the changes last week; the legislation is now on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk awaiting action. It would set up a process for voters to use a “reasonable impediment declaration” outlining why they couldn’t provide a photo ID at the polls. Voters could claim one of eight reasons, including a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, or a lack of a birth certificate or other documents to obtain a photo ID.

Voters using the form would provide their date of birth or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or show a voter registration card to prove their identity.

Lewis’ letter indicates the move has drawn backlash from Republicans who supported the voter ID requirement in its original form.

“There has been considerable angst, in the last few days, over claims we have weakened our voter ID laws,” he wrote. “I reject that claim.”

Lewis then describes several of what he calls “inevitable situations” that could prevent a legitimate voter from casting a ballot under the current law – using himself as an example.

“Let’s say loyal voter David Lewis takes his family to lunch at the Western Steer in Dunn on Sunday before the Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 General Election,” he wrote. “Somehow between listening to his kids argue over how many trips to the dessert bar they can make and cleaning up the unavoidable spilled drink or two, he loses his wallet.

“David’s wallet contains his North Carolina Driver’s License. David does not have a US Passport or any other federally issued ID. Because the only ID David has is lost, he would not be able to vote on Tuesday as he’s done every year since turning 18.”

Lewis argues that his hypothetical, wallet-losing self shouldn’t have to sit out an important election. “It is reasonable that some provision be made so that David can exercise his right to vote,” he says.

In another example, Lewis describes a voter whose driver’s license expires a few days short of the election. “Is it not reasonable that the right to vote is more important than simply forgetting to renew his license?” he said.

“We’ve tried to strike a balance – improve the real and perceived integrity of the system while NOT stopping valid, registered voters from voting,” the letter concludes. “This reasonable impediment accommodation strikes the right balance.”

Lewis’ letter doesn’t address the timing of the change – just weeks before a federal lawsuit challenging the voter ID law was scheduled to go to trial. The law was passed in 2013, and the photo ID requirement goes into effect next year.

Critics of the law have said the change appears designed to blunt some of the legal arguments against the photo ID requirement.

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Twitter: @RaleighReporter