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Wednesday, 24 June 2015 14:05

Legislature weakens voter ID requirement

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fr idcardsIn an unexpected turn of events, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation last Thursday that will allow people to cast a ballot in 2016 even if they don’t have an acceptable form of identification. 

The decision is a significant modification to the voter ID law passed by the Republican majority in 2013. Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who opposed the legislation in 2013, said the new provision would allow voters without a photo ID to cast a ballot as long as they sign an affidavit stating that they have a reasonable excuse. 

The acceptable exceptions include a lack of transportation, disability or illness, lost or stolen photo ID, or a lack of a birth certificate or other documents to obtain a photo ID.

“It’s a very good step forward for our voters so they shouldn’t be discouraged from trying to vote,” Queen said. “I was glad to support it. We want voters to vote because that’s the only way to fix what’s wrong — at the ballot box.”

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, a proponent of the 2013 Voter ID laws, said he was comfortable with the new compromise. He said people without proper photo ID can cast a provisional ballot but will still have to show some kind of proof that they are who they say they are — whether it’s the last four digits of their Social Security number or other documentation. 

“I think it loosens up the requirement to ensure people who may show up at polls without an ID can cast a provisional ballot that can be quickly evaluated,” Davis said. “I’m OK with that — the goal is to ensure everyone entitled to vote is able to vote.”

The North Carolina Board of Elections recently held public hearings throughout the state to gather public input on its proposed rules to enforce the new voter ID laws. The Western North Carolina hearing was held in Sylva and the room was packed. Roger Turner, voting rights coordinator for the Jackson County Democrats, said the Sylva meeting had more people than the meeting held in Raleigh. While he would like to think that the Legislature made the change to the law after hearing all the negative feedback from the public, he said he knows better. 

“You can wax about how grassroots efforts helps these kinds of things, but I think it has to do with the lawsuits that are pending,” Turner said. “I don’t know how much of a win it is — it’s more about the Legislature protecting themselves in court.”

Queen said the court challenges regarding the constitutionality of these types of laws in North Carolina as well as other states definitely played a major role in the Legislature’s decision to weaken the voter ID burden.

Turner said the new modification makes North Carolina’s voting laws similar to South Carolina’s, which is a safer bet legally. While the change is welcomed, Turner worries that it may still be too late to prevent any more confusion when it comes to Election Day. 

“You still have to be a pretty involved person to understand what’s going on these days with voter ID laws,” he said. “I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot of confusion for people. We’re going to have to prepare and have well trained precinct workers at the polls.”

Turner would like to form a voter rights task force to continue to follow these issues and educate the public on the laws so that they are prepared for the 2016 elections.

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