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Patrick Gannon: Devil’s in the details on voter I.D.

RALEIGH – Polls show a majority of North Carolina voters will be happy to present IDs before voting when photo identification requirements begin in 2016.

The process seems simple. You show your ID, you vote.

It’s not that simple.

What if addresses on a voter’s ID and the voter rolls don’t match? What if a woman recently changed her last name after getting married and the last names don’t match? What if a voter doesn’t look exactly like the ID photo because of weight changes, a shaved beard, changes in hair color or style or a new tattoo?

The State Board of Elections will adopt proposed rules to govern how the process is supposed to work in these cases and others that will arise on Election Days. Those rules then are expected to go through a review process with a public comment period over the next few months.

State elections officials say the just-released, proposed voter ID rules have fairness to voters in mind.

The 2013 voter ID legislation mandates that the elections board “administer photo ID requirements in a manner that confirms a voter’s identity as accurately as possible without restriction, and construes all evidence in the light most favorable to the voter,” wrote Kim Strach, the board’s executive director, in a letter to Board Chairman Joshua Howard, describing the proposed rules.

Under the proposed rules, poll workers would be tasked with ensuring an unexpired, acceptable form of ID is presented and that the photo on the ID is the same person showing up to vote. Differences between the ID photo and the voter — including weight, hair style, facial hair, tattoos or apparel, such as glasses —  wouldn’t be grounds for disqualification.

If a poll worker, however, determines that an ID photo doesn’t bear any reasonable resemblance to the voter, then election judges must make a final determination. Unless the judges — three on Election Day and two during early voting — unanimously find that the photo doesn’t bear any reasonable resemblance to the person wishing to vote, the person would be allowed to vote by regular ballot. If the judges unanimously decide that the photo doesn’t depict the person who showed up to vote, then the person could cast a provisional ballot, which may or may not be counted.

What about different names?

Elections officials also will have to determine that the name on the photo ID is the same or “substantially equivalent” to the name in the registration record. Under the proposal rules, the name on the photo ID should be considered “substantially equivalent” to the name on the voter rolls if differences are attributable to omission of a part of the name (Patrick William Smith Jr. versus Patrick William Smith, for example), use of a common variation (Bill versus William) or use of an initial in place of part of a name (A.B. Smith versus Aaron B. Smith).

The rules also would allow for the use of former names or names that include or omit a hyphen (Mary Beth Smith versus Mary Beth Jacobson or Mary C. Jacobson-Smith versus Mary C. Jacobson.). And different ordering of names (Maria Eva Garcia Lopez versus Maria E. Lopez-Garcia) would be OK, too.

Different addresses on the ID and voter rolls? That shouldn’t matter under the proposed rules, which state that different addresses shouldn’t be construed as evidence that the photo ID doesn’t bear “any reasonable resemblance” to the person at the polls.

Board of Elections data show hundreds of thousands of voters could be affected if the rules were super strict, such as requiring exact address and name matches between the photo ID and voter rolls.

As you can imagine, problems can arise from the voter ID requirement, such as poll workers who go on power trips or misinterpret the rules.

All of this is evidence that election workers must be well-trained to carry out the law according to the rules, and voters should educate themselves in detail about the new process.

Longer waits at the polls in 2016? That’s another issue altogether.

Patrick Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.

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