But Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill would disproportionately impact elderly and minority voters because they are the residents most likely to lack a photo ID.
More than 600,000 registered voters in North Carolina do not have a traditional form of photo ID, such as a driver’s license, according to a report by the State Board of Elections.
Among these voters, 34 percent are between the ages of 41 and 65, and about 30 percent are black.
“What I’m concerned about,” Moore said, “is how it would disenfranchise certain groups of voters.”
Lewis said student IDs would qualify as photo identification.
Brent Laurenz, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said voter ID bills complicate the voting process.
“We want to see that voters are not unduly burdened and we don’t leave anyone out of the process,” Laurenz said.
Critics have also pointed to a lack of evidence of voter fraud in the state.
Moore said voter ID laws are not needed because North Carolina already has strong laws against fraud, such as the threat of prosecution for claiming a false identity.
The debate about voting rights and laws has also gained national prominence in recent weeks.
The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments last week in a case challenging the extension of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The section requires areas in the country with a history of minority disenfranchisement to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before changing their voting laws.
In North Carolina, 40 out of 100 counties are subject to Section 5.
UNC law professor Kareem Crayton, who helped write a brief in the Supreme Court case, said Section 5 is still needed to counterbalance racial prejudice.
Section 5 jurisdictions contain about 19 percent of the nation’s adult population, but about 26 percent of all workplace discrimination complaints are filed in them, he said.
White voters living in Section 5 jurisdictions are most likely to have racially prejudiced views, according to Crayton’s brief.
Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for N.C. Policy Watch, which is part of the N.C. Justice Center, said the elimination of Section 5 would only permit review of voter rights infringements on a case-by-case basis in state courts.
Proposals like voter ID laws in the areas covered by Section 5 would no longer be reviewed at the federal level if the section is removed, Schofield said.
The voter ID bill vetoed by Perdue in 2011 called for some of the strictest requirements in the country, said Allison Riggs, a lawyer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
But Republican legislators said the bill this session would be more moderate.
Provisions would ensure obtaining a photo ID would not be difficult, Lewis said.
“There would be means to help people obtain a photo ID with no direct cost to themselves,” he said.
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