Opinion

The new voter photo ID bill is vague and leaves lots of questions

A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina's old voter ID law. Now legislators want photo ID enshrined in the state constitution.
A federal appeals court struck down North Carolina's old voter ID law. Now legislators want photo ID enshrined in the state constitution. News & Record file

There are important questions to be resolved before the legislature votes to put voter photo identification in the state Constitution via referendum.

The ballot question says, “Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.” This language appears to not allow exceptions for those without ID or those who have lost them, as the 2013 law did. Will it be a “hard ID” like that struck down in federal court, or a “soft ID” like the 2013 House version that allowed student ID, public assistance ID or employer ID? Will there be a tedious provisional ballot process?

The referendum voter won’t know the actual proposal. Senate staffer Brent Woodcox tweeted, “Very few would read the details of the bill to make their decision on the amendment. Unless it passes, there will be no need for implementing language.” How cynical. Is the amendment just a blank check, as well as a sound bite to trap candidates? Is the actual reason to amend the constitution to end review on state constitutional grounds? Republicans control the legislature; the N.C. Supreme Court is now 4-3 Democratic and will remain Democratic next year.

What justification have proponents offered, other than voter confidence would be improved? Gov. Pat McCrory in signing the 2013 bill said it was common sense because you “need a photo ID to fly.” This is untrue; the Transportation Security Administration has many published workarounds for fliers with no photo ID. Other misconceptions: "The law requires photo ID to buy beer, wine and cigarettes." Not true. There is no law requiring this, but if merchants gets photo ID they have a safe harbor if it’s phony.

“You have to have a photo ID to get a prescription.” Most prescriptions have no legal ID requirement. Controlled substances require a government ID, but it doesn’t have to be that of the patient; others can pick up those drugs by showing their ID.

A large segment of society, especially the poor, don't fly and don't have checking accounts. Research has shown that the poorer the voter, the younger the voter, or if the voter is black, the less likely there is an acceptable photo ID. Also, why are we writing into the constitution 2018 technology, disallowing other methods that may develop?

I’ve seen attacks that people without ID could easily get one. For many, this isn’t true. Those of us in politics are privileged to be in the top 95 percent of society. We often don’t see the struggle of citizens who are un-banked, poor, homeless, mentally ill, with no car, or living far away from DMV in rural areas. The lesser among us deserve respect and honor, not baseless fraud allegations or artificial and unnecessary barriers to voting. This bill will disenfranchise voters and is poorly thought through. No one is breaking into the voting booth.

Most voter fraud is in mail-in ballots, not touched by this bill. The other major fraud in 2016 was largely baseless post-election fraud accusations made by representatives of a campaign, organized by Virginia lawyers who duped volunteers into signing false allegations.

Over 400,000 persons have had licenses suspended in the last three years in North Carolina for failing to pay court fees (which have greatly increased). How would this affect voter ID?

Also, the constitutional amendment is effective upon certification (likely around November 28) allowing a December session to fill in the details. I’ve seen this movie before. If the ID amendment is passed by voters, make it effective in 2019 and let the new legislature write the law, since the proponents say they have no details.

Gerry Cohen of Raleigh is former special counsel to the N.C. General Assembly.





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