Opinion

4 ways NC lawmakers can make a voter ID bill less than awful

The voter ID constitutional amendment explained

Republicans say photo voter ID is needed for security while opponents say it will keep people from voting. Voters will decide on a North Carolina constitutional amendment to require voter ID.
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Republicans say photo voter ID is needed for security while opponents say it will keep people from voting. Voters will decide on a North Carolina constitutional amendment to require voter ID.

Voter ID laws are an awful way to protect the integrity of elections. They address a problem that isn’t a problem — the North Carolina board of elections found one case in 4.8 million votes cast in 2016 that photo ID would have addressed — and they disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of potential voters who don’t have the documents, money or time to obtain an ID.

Voter ID is even more troublesome in the hands of North Carolina’s Republican legislators, who have shown a remarkable capacity to craft voting laws that are unconstitutional, racially discriminatory and inevitably slapped down by federal judges. Still, NC voters decided this month to give the legislature another try, approving an amendment to the NC Constitution that allows lawmakers to draw up a new voter ID law without having to get the governor’s approval.

Those lawmakers will begin hammering out details Monday at a joint House-Senate committee meeting, where they will go over a draft of a bill released last Tuesday. That draft is an improvement on a strict 2013 voter ID law that ultimately was struck down in federal court, but lawmakers can still do a better job not only protecting against voter fraud, but the possibility of North Carolinians being blocked from voting.

Here’s how an unnecessary law can be made at least a little better:

Accept a wide range of IDs: The draft bill accepts many IDs not included in the 2013 law, including IDs at schools in the University of North Carolina system. Lawmakers should include IDs from all colleges and community colleges in the state, and the language of the bill should ensure that no students have to get new IDs, as happened in Wisconsin when lawmakers put specific requirements on the student IDs the state would accept. (Update, 11/27: On Monday, at least one lawmaker, Republican Rep. David Lewis, talked about private colleges creating new IDs. It’s unnecessary, and it would likely result in fewer young voters.)

Make getting an ID easy: We’re encouraged that the draft bill allows prospective voters to get a photo ID by providing their address and last four digits of their Social Security number. That shouldn’t change. Elderly and poor North Carolinians should not have to endure the expense and red tape of getting documents they might not have, such as birth certificates. Also: IDs — and replacements for expired IDs — should be free of charge. It will cost struggling North Carolinians enough to go through the time and effort to get them — one study showed that voters in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas paid from $79-$172 to get “free” voter ID cards.

Allow for exceptions: The draft bill allows for voters unable to get a photo ID to make a “reasonable impediment” declaration to photo ID and cast a provisional ballot. That’s good, but voters with a valid impediment should be able to cast regular votes. That would place less of a burden on county boards of elections, and if impediments are considered valid, there’s no reason to discourage voters by requiring a provisional ballot. Remember, the idea should be to protect the vote, not prevent it.

Paper ballots: Want to protect the integrity of elections? Security experts are urging states to go back to paper ballots and remove touchscreen voting machines that are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Nearly two dozen states have done so. North Carolina should.

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