VOTER ID: Requirement now in place, but lawsuit already filed

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/27/18

As of now, North Carolina voters will be required to show some form of photo identification when they go to the polls.

Here’s a breakdown of a few observations from the final bill, a competing piece of legislation that went nowhere and the aforementioned lawsuit:

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VOTER ID: Requirement now in place, but lawsuit already filed

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As of now, North Carolina voters will be required to show some form of photo identification when they go to the polls.

The law is in place once again after both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto last week. The votes, mostly along party lines, enacted a constitutional amendment approved in November by the same voters that will be affected by it.

The approval came after heated debate in the legislature and was met with a lawsuit less than an hour after the House voted to override the veto.

Here’s a breakdown of a few observations from the final bill, a competing piece of legislation that went nowhere and the aforementioned lawsuit:

Chatham Voted Against It

State voters supported the November amendment by a 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent margin, which didn’t reflect Chatham County’s 54.3 to 45.7 percent vote against it. Both of Chatham County’s representatives in the General Assembly voted against the bill that put the question on the ballot, Senate Bill 824’s original passage and the motion to override the veto.

Rep. Robert Reives II, a Democrat representing all of Chatham County and part of Durham County, had a litany of issues with the legislation. Primarily, he said, he believes that the amendment was not “candidly presented to the people” and that voters didn’t understand what it was supposed to do.

“I don’t think they were voting for the 20-page enabling legislation that we did that picks winners and losers,” he said. “That’s my candid belief. That was a problem.”

Reives also said the bill didn’t attack actual voter fraud that is taking place, like the recent absentee ballot fraud allegations in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District that has left that race without an official winner more than a month and a half after the election. Reives also suggested that the penalties put in place for attempted and successful voter fraud weren’t enough if that were indeed the real problem.

“When you look at our drug laws and things of that sort — the drug crimes that we really started ramping up the penalty for, they got reduced,” he said. “If voter fraud by using fake identification represents .002 percent of the problems that we’re having right now, I would say that ramping that up to automatic jail time gets you to zero. Why aren’t we trying those things if that’s what our point is?”

Sen. Valerie Foushee, a Democrat representing Chatham and Orange counties, voted against the measure and the veto override.

Following the Public’s Mandate

Republican leaders in the legislature pointed to the vote of the people to enact the amendment.

“Delivering voter ID to the strong majority of North Carolinians who support this simple yet essential election integrity measure has been a long time coming,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) — a primary sponsor on the legislation putting the question on the ballot — said in a statement. “I’m proud of the commitment House lawmakers made to finish this accomplishment and keep our promise to the people of North Carolina who approved voter ID in our state constitution.”

Both Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) criticized Cooper in their statements for opposing what they claim was the will of the citizens.

“My district is full of good, hard-working, well-intentioned people — there is nothing sinister or cynical about them,” Lewis said. “The governor does not have a problem with this legislature, he has a problem with his citizens. This bill does exactly what the people of this state wanted us to do.”

Berger added, “On Election Day, voters made their desire for voter ID very clear. By choosing to ignore the people of N.C., Gov. Cooper has shown his personal beliefs supersede a democratic vote of the people. North Carolinians deserve leaders they can trust to carry out their will, and that is why I am happy we were able to override the Governor’s veto.”

Despite disagreeing with the concept of voter ID, Reives was one of several Democrats who signed on to support House Bill 1115, legislation that would implement a photo voter ID requirement but added some concepts absent from the final, accepted version. The Democratic bill called for, among other things:

-      Automatic and universal voter registration at certain agencies, upon citizenship being bestowed and registration for classes at state community colleges

-      Additional forms of acceptable ID, including an employee identification card from any employer (not just a governing entity) and student ID from any “institution of higher learning,” not limited to state colleges, community colleges or an “eligible private postsecondary institution"

-      Broader acceptance of expired identification cards

-      Institution of online voter registration with verification via driver’s license or state-issued ID card number

Reives said that the goal of HB1115, which he co-sponsored, was intended to make voter registration “simple.”

“It tries to move as much as we can to more flexibility that this statute doesn’t give us,” he said. What we tried to do is get rid of questions and make this as open and as simple as possible, and answer what I believe people really voted for.”

It was filed on Dec. 3, placed in the House Rules Committee the next day and stayed there.

Implementing SB824 is expected to cost the state $17.83 million over the next five years, including $2.25 million this fiscal year, in according to the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division. The legislature appropriated $2.25 million for this fiscal year, but included nothing about following years. The bill also allocated $850,000 to be used for maintenance grants for printing equipment and other items at county boards of elections.

A Quick Lawsuit

Marked as filed at 3:51 p.m. on Dec. 19, the first lawsuit against SB824 came just 12 minutes after the final veto override vote by the House. It was filed in Wake County Superior Court.

Six North Carolina voters are listed as the plaintiffs in the complaint, which is levied against Moore, Berger, Lewis, Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell), the State of North Carolina and the State Board of Elections. The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice including Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for the organization.

“The North Carolina Constitution provides numerous and inviolable protections for the fundamental right to vote of all its citizens,” Riggs said in a statement.  “Just because the North Carolina Constitution now authorizes, with exceptions, the presentation of a picture ID when voting does not mean those other longstanding protections can be ignored or violated.”

The SCSJ also represented plaintiffs who challenged the state’s 2013 voter ID law, which was struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for, among other things, targeting minorities with “almost surgical precision.”

The complaint alleges that the General Assembly “has simply reproduced the court-identified racially discriminatory intent it manifested a mere five years ago when it enacted a very similar voter ID requirement.” It also says the law “unconstitutionally and unjustifiably burdens the right to vote” of registered and qualified NC voters “who lack acceptable photo ID.”

The plaintiffs include a wheelchair-bound man with cerebral palsy who has difficulty traveling and an elderly man unable to drive who can’t get his South Carolina birth certificate because of an administrative misspelling of his mother’s name.

The complaint asks for an injunction on the bill and a “declaratory judgement” saying that SB824 violates “constitutional rights.”

There’s no indication as of yet to when the complaint will move forward or reach a conclusion. The 2013 bill met its end in May 2017 after the U.S Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, so if history is any indication, a conclusion may take a while.

If there is no legal action on the bill, Chatham County voters will be required to use their photo IDs when they return to the polls in fall 2019 for municipal elections.


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