State’s voter ID laws changed again by legislature

Published 12:05 am Sunday, June 28, 2015

As North Carolina’ s voter identification laws barreled toward a court hearing next month, state legislators this month backed off of many original provisions and loosened restrictions.

The newest changes passed by nearly unanimous counts in both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly and went to a conference committee to sort out various difference between the House’s and Senate’s versions. It was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory this week, and becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2016. The law would apply to primary and general elections in 2016.

The changes, attached to a series of unrelated election law changes in House Bill 836, allow voters to cast a provisional ballot if a “reasonable impediment” prevents the person from presenting a photo ID at polls. Prior to the changes, all voters would’ve been required to present a photo ID.

Conservatives have critiqued the changes as gutting voter ID provisions. North Carolinians opposed to the original law say the changes are a step forward, but not perfect.

“None of the arguments for requiring photos IDs have really held any water,” said Rowan County Democratic Party Chair Geoffrey Hoy. “No one has ever proved that any kind of voter fraud occurs at the sort of magnitude that would require all of this. It’s just been totally unnecessary.”

Hoy said North Carolina voters should have unrestricted access to voting booths.

When asked about the changes, Salisbury-Rowan NAACP President Scott Teamer invoked the lengthy history for blacks to obtain the right to vote.

“We have died, and we have shed our blood for voting rights,” Teamer said. “The little crumbs we gain here and there isn’t impressive, and if we are satisfied with anything other than full voting rights then we don’t know what real justice looks like.”

The “reasonable impediments” that allow voters to avoid presenting a photo ID include a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lack of birth certificate or other documents, work schedule, family responsibilities and lost or stolen photo identification. The photo ID law allows voters to list any other reasonable impediment, and requires a brief description of any other circumstance.

The Rowan County Board of Elections approves provisional ballots before they’re approved, but its staff hasn’t yet been told how to judge the validity of reasonable impediments when used, said Elections Director Nancy Evans.

For over a year now, the Rowan County Board of Elections has been educating voters about the 2013 laws, which are now changed and go into effect in six months. Evans, however, said the number of voters who fill out provisional ballots because of a photo ID problem are likely a small portion of overall voters.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34, who was on the conference committee to solve difference between the House and Senate bill, said the changes were intended as a compromise between conservative and liberal arguments on photo IDs. Even with North Carolina’s court date forthcoming, Brock said the changes make North Carolina photo ID requirement “a non-legal issue.”

“I think the courts will see that this is well thought out and allows for ballot security and protects a person’s right to vote,” Brock said.

He said the changes incorporate suggestions from Democrats in the General Assembly and are based on a South Carolina law that held up in court. North Carolina’s law includes specific impediment options, while South Carolina’s is more vague.

If photo ID lawsuits proceed, Brock said he believes the General Assembly’s changes would hold up in court.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.