RALEIGH — House Speaker Tim Moore filed a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote in North Carolina elections.
The move was expected, though controversial. Conservatives cite polls showing most residents see voter ID as a needed security measure, while some liberals claim an ID requirement would disenfranchise elderly and minority voters.
“This commonsense measure to secure the integrity of our elections system is supported by the vast majority of North Carolinians who know protecting our democracy should be one of lawmakers’ highest priorities,” the Cleveland County Republican said Thursday, June 7, in a written statement announcing he filed House Bill 1092.
“The voters of North Carolina deserve a chance to weigh in on securing their own rights in the democratic process, and will have the final say on strengthening election protections,” Moore said.
The bill simply states: “Every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.” It must pass both legislative chambers by a three-fifths super-majority vote to appear on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Political sparks flew as soon as Moore issued his news release.
“It’s unfortunate that legislators think that they can hide another unconstitutional voter suppression effort by putting it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and trying to trick voters into doing their dirty work for them,” Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in a news release.
“A federal court found their previous scheme to require photo ID and limit voting access were blatant attempts to disenfranchise voters of color,” said Riggs, who successfully argued before the 4thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against state voter ID.
“Just as when the legislature tried this in 2011 and 2013, we know that thousands of eligible North Carolina voters lack photo identification. These voters are disproportionately voters of color, elderly voters, women, and voters with physical challenges,” Riggs said.
Moore’s constitutional amendment is a continuation of voter-suppression efforts to exclude those groups from their fundamental right to vote, Riggs said.
Moore gave little credence to the lack of photo ID argument. He said North Carolina residents possess and show IDs for far more trivial matters than voting.
North Carolina is one of only 18 states which don’t require any form of voter identification at the polls. It is the last state in the Southeast not to have voter ID.
State Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Yancey, a primary sponsor of H.B. 1092, said it’s vital to block election fraud.
“Citizens are increasingly concerned about attempts to subvert our elections process,” Presnell said, “and it is incumbent upon government officials to safeguard public perception of our democracy as well as the actual ballots cast.”
“Confidence in the American democracy is essential to its longevity,” said Rep. John Sauls, R-Lee, a primary sponsor. “Our state must not tolerate anyone’s vote being threatened because lawmakers failed to prevent fraud.”
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, House Elections and Ethics Law Committee chairman, said voter ID is just one important step to ensure elections are secure in North Carolina. It’s essential in an age when identity theft is common.
“We are fighting for the gold standard of elections laws,” Lewis said.
The Republicans attached a number of links to various polls showing North Carolina and U.S. voters overwhelmingly support voter ID.
The General Assembly passed House Bill 589 in 2013. Its provisions included a photo ID requirement to vote. The law was challenged after its debut in the May 2016 primary. The 4thU.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down.
“The idea that this keeps people out of the polls just is not true,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, said at a lecture in Chapel Hill in April.
He believes North Carolina’s previous voter ID law was constitutional.
“You all tried to do that and you got sabotaged by partisan, activist liberal judges,” von Spakovsky has said. Despite vocal opposition about voter suppression, in the 2014 election “your turnout skyrocketed,” with black turnout at an all-time high.
Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and South Carolina all have voter ID laws that have been upheld in the courts, and South Carolina’s is almost identical to the North Carolina law that was struck down, von Spakovsky said.
“It’s very clear that your law [was] not discriminatory no matter what these judges say about it,” von Spakovsky said.
He cited Georgia as another example where voter ID opponents raised alarms that black voter turnout would suffer. When first used in 2008, Democratic turnout was up more than 6 percent, which corresponded to a rise in black voting records that were maintained.
The voter suppression scare is more thoroughly debunked now with 10 years of Georgia data showing just the opposite, von Spakovsky said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a statewide study of voting records that showed black voting totals increased 44 percent from 2006, before a voter ID law was in effect, to 2010.
Preventing fraud is a reason to support voter ID, von Spakovsky said. He manages the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. His center has identified 12 proven cases of voter fraud in North Carolina. As of mid-April the center documented 1,132 voter fraud cases, with 938 criminal convictions, 48 civil penalties, and various judicial and official findings of fraud nationwide.
“That is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Dan Way is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.