Editorial: Voter ID ‘cure worse than disease’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 10, 2018

Showing a photo ID to vote in an election does not sound onerous in itself; people are required to show identification for many less important functions. Pardon us, though, if we’re skeptical of House Speaker Tim Moore’s attempt to write such a requirement into the state Constitution. The Republicans of the General Assembly showed questionable  intent with their last attempt to mandate voter ID, and there’s no sign their thinking has changed.

The voting law that lawmakers passed in 2013 went beyond requiring a photo ID. The law cut the number of days early voting would be held. It also eliminated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting — all measures that disproportionately affected black voters, who tend to vote Democratic. The measures came after a group of lawmakers, including Rep. Harry Warren of Salisbury, specifically asked the state Board of Elections for a racial breakdown of citizens who voted early and those who voted out of precinct, among other things.

As for the ID question itself, there were also questions about what type of ID election officials would accept — the law was especially restrictive in this area — and how difficult it would be for poorer citizens without transportation to comply.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law in 2016 with a decision whose words got to the heart of the matter: “The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote. “Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.”

A similar new voting law in Wisconsin also was struck down. In that case, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson wrote that “a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities. To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

In North Carolina, Moore’s proposed constitutional amendment would have to pass both the House and the Senate in order to be put on the ballot this fall for a statewide vote. That’s a scary prospect  when you think about the ads likely to surface pro and con on this issue. The “phantom” of voter fraud will be depicted as a pervasive threat to the American way of life. Opponents will raise the specter of Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, and not without some justification.

If Moore and his colleagues are so sure voter ID is a good idea, they should write a bill that can pass muster, not stage a statewide showdown on voting rights. This referendum will not be good for North Carolina.