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N.C. General Assembly puts controversial voter ID amendment on November ballot

Alongside the races for state and national offices, North Carolina voters will find six proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot in November.

One of these amendments will be familiar to N.C. residents: a requirement that voters after the 2018 election to provide photo identification at the polls.

A previous North Carolina law with a voter identification provision was struck down by a federal court in 2016. The court decided the law targeted minority voters, or would at least disproportionately affect minority voters.

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation, said lawmakers want to include this amendment on the ballot to prevent voter fraud.

“As anyone who votes in North Carolina knows, all you need to know to be able to get a ballot is a name and an address,” he said. “In most cases, the vast majority are the people who have that name and live at that address, but it does open the door for voter fraud.”

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University School of Law, found in a 2007 study that voter fraud rates in the U.S. are between 0.0003 and 0.0025 percent.

The NAACP has filed a lawsuit to remove the voter ID amendment from the ballot, along with three other proposed amendments. The lawsuit argues that because some of the legislators who voted for the amendments were elected from districts that a federal court ruled were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, they do not have the authority to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. 

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said the General Assembly is trying to circumvent the 4th Circuit Court’s previous decision.

“The General Assembly, in its devious way, is coming back and is repackaging this piece to make it seem like now they want the people to chime in, when in reality the people are not as knowledgeable as they could be regarding the previous litigation,” he said. 

Requiring voter ID in a constitutional amendment would mean that only a federal court could overturn the measure, rather than the state supreme court, Kokai said.

Kokai said past opposition for the original law, specifically from the federal court, had more to do with other parts of the law than the ID requirement. The previous law included changes to early voting times and other voting access measures.

Since the language of the amendment is so vague, Kokai said the General Assembly will have to make additional laws to clarify the policy, and laws moving forward may include provisions for those who have reasons for not being able to obtain a photo ID.

“The amendment deals with just the very specific idea of requiring photo identification,” he said. “There would have to be a law passed dealing with what IDs are acceptable, how this would be implemented and if there would be a reasonable impediment provision.” 

Spearman said he believes the general assembly has acted on the knowledge that the amendment would create voting hardships for African Americans. 

“One thing is that there are numbers of African Americans who are aged now who don’t have photo ID and would have a hardship trying to get photo ID,” Spearman said. “Either they don’t have birth certificates or the documentation that they need, so it’s going to cause tremendous hardship.”

Austin Hahn, president of UNC Young Democrats, said the organization has been trying to increase awareness of the amendment and its possible effects as they encourage and register students to vote.

“People don’t see that we’re not pro-voter fraud,” Hahn said. “I’m all for making elections safer and more valid, but if it’s going to disenfranchise legitimate voters to solve a problem that doesn’t really exist, it isn’t necessary.”

Spearman said the amendment is a last-ditch effort by the General Assembly to exercise their power before the district lines are redrawn by order of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If we’re not able to help people to see and become more educated in regards to the amendment, it will pass,” he said. “That’s not going to stop us from fighting this and what we see as the moral thing to do and conveying to voters that this is something that’s being done.”


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