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Voter ID legislation passes General Assembly

Published 8:41am Monday, July 29, 2013

RALEIGH – Pending approval of Governor Pat McCrory, it appears North Carolina will have to show identification prior to being allowed to vote.

Both sides of the NC General Assembly approved the legislation earlier this week. However, the final version of the bill, one that had undergone much debate since earlier this year, was not met with open arms.

In a letter sent Friday, State Attorney General Roy Cooper urged McCrory to veto the legislation saying it would restrict North Carolinians’ access to the polls and is likely to face challenges in court

“I write to state my strong opposition to the election reforms contained in House Bill 589 and ask that you veto this regressive legislation,” Cooper wrote in the letter. “For years, North Carolina has taken steps that encourage people to vote while maintaining the integrity of the system.”

Cooper’s letter highlights his policy objections to a number of provisions in the legislation that will make it harder for North Carolinians to vote.

If signed into law, Cooper said the measure will severely restrict working people’s opportunities to vote early and on weekends; prevent new voters from pre-registering so that they can vote as soon as they turn 18 years of age; and stop people from voting if they show up at the wrong polling place by mistake.

He also questions the need for the voter ID requirements included in the bill, calling those requirements “unnecessary, expensive and burdensome” in his letter.

Cooper anticipates that the new law will be challenged in court. The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it would fight state laws that restrict voting rights, and challenges from civil rights groups are likely as well.

“With a veto, you can encourage more people to be involved in the political process, stop this bad public policy, and prevent the confusion and cost of a legal battle,” Cooper wrote McCrory.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said the legislation is a hugely popular, common-sense provision that requires North Carolinians to show a photo ID when they vote.

House Bill 589 establishes a list of valid government-issued photo IDs – including driver’s licenses, non-operator ID cards, tribal and military IDs and passports – that voters can present at their polling places. It allows any North Carolina citizen without a valid photo ID to obtain one at no cost through the Department of Motor Vehicles, quashing arguments that this could somehow disenfranchise voters, Berger said.

“A measure that restores confidence in our election process and ensures voters are who they say they are is a no-brainer – and nearly three-quarters of North Carolinians agree. This bill will bring North Carolina in line with the majority of other states that already require voter ID,” said Berger in a press release.

The proposal also outlines a gradual implementation timeline, beginning with the 2014 elections, for informing voters and enacting the photo ID requirement, until the law is fully enforced in 2016.

An Elon University poll from earlier this year showed that over 72 percent of North Carolina residents support requiring voters to show photo ID before being allowed to vote.

“With over 70 percent of North Carolina residents consistently supporting the implementation of a photo ID measure, this common-sense legislation responds to the majority of citizens who desire a fair and accountable election system,” said House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg). “The passage of this bill is a testament to General Assembly members’ relentless efforts in working to strengthen our election system.”

Also established in this bill are standard hours of operation among early voting sites. Sites are required to stay open for 10 days and must provide a consistent number of hours among all locations. This provision will provide consistency among various voting sites, providing ample time for citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote. In fact, the bill provides the same number of early voting hours as the current system.

“This voter ID and election reform bill promotes measures that will provide everyone an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, while simultaneously protecting the integrity of North Carolina’s election system,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), Chairman of the House Elections Committee.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Democratic Leader in his chamber of the General Assembly, blasted Republican legislation implementing sweeping new restrictions to voting in North Carolina. Nesbitt said the legislation, “falsely hailed as a “voter ID bill,” is actually designed to impede voters’ ability to fulfill their constitutional rights and make it easier Nesbitt said the bill reduces early voting; ends same-day registration; ends straight-ballot voting; ends early registration at DMVs and in high school civics classes; allows unlimited corporate contributions to campaigns; and decreased financial disclosure requirements for campaigns.

Along with requiring a photo ID, the bill disallows college-IDs and other forms of ID currently held by legal, registered North Carolina voters, Nesbitt claimed.

“Senate Republicans infringed upon the most fundamental of American rights: the ability to select a representative government,” Nesbitt said in a press release. “Already this session, Republicans have assailed middle class and working families. They’ve hurt small businesses, slashed public education, reduced access to healthcare, and greatly reduced rural communities’ ability to create jobs and maintain roads – all in order to give handouts to the top 1% and out-of-state corporations. They’ve disrespected and hurt the middle class. And now they’ve equally disrespected voters and greatly harmed the liberty of all North Carolinians. But they won’t succeed – voters across this great state won’t stand by and allow their voices to be suppressed.”

If the Governor signs the bill into law, US Congressman G.K. Butterfield has vowed to ask the United States Attorney General to use all available options to challenge it because it will violate the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution.

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