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9th Congressional District investigation hangs over voter ID debate

December 5th, 2018

— Tempers flared among House members Tuesday afternoon during a three-hour committee hearing on legislation setting the rules for the recently approved constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Senate Bill 824 cleared the House Elections Committee on a 17-9 party-line vote and is expected to get its first debate on the House floor Wednesday.

Under the proposal, the following IDs would be acceptable at the polls:

  • A North Carolina driver’s license
  • Identification cards for non-drivers issued by the state Division of Motor Vehicles
  • U.S. passports
  • A county-issued voter ID card
  • A tribal enrollment card issued by a federally or state-recognized tribe.
  • A student ID card from a University of North Carolina school, a community college or a private university
  • An employee identification card issued by a state or local government entity, including a charter school
  • A driver’s license or ID card issued by another state if the voter’s registration came within 90 days of the election

All of those types of ID must be valid and either unexpired or expired for less than a year. Officials at universities, colleges and local government entities would be required to certify every four years that their processes for printing IDs are secure and that they have verified the age and citizenship status of ID holders.

The bill also allows the following forms of ID regardless of whether they carry expiration or issuance dates:

  • A military ID issued by the U.S. government
  • A veteran’s identification card issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Any of the allowed IDs, even if they’re expired, if the voter is at least 65 years old, as long as the ID was unexpired on his or her 65th birthday.

Many Republicans said the bill was watered down because federal courts found voter ID rules lawmakers approved in 2013 were unconstitutional. They said the proposal is now too lenient, especially because it allows college IDs to be used, and some even wanted to require fingerprints for people who don’t have a photo ID.

But House Minority Leader Darren Jackson said even a strict photo ID law wouldn’t have mattered in Bladen County, where officials are investigating absentee ballot tampering in the 9th Congressional District race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready.

“The whole country is looking at North Carolina now, but they’re looking at us because of absentee voter fraud,” said Jackson, D-Wake. “What are we doing? We’re sitting here not even addressing the issue; we’re doing something else that would make no difference.”

Lawmakers did add an amendment to the bill that would require absentee voters to include a photocopy of their photo ID with their mail-in ballot, but they could also opt out in some cases.

“This bill does, in fact, add yet additional steps and additional safeguards when you’re voting by mail,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.

Other Republicans were steadfast in their argument that in-person voter fraud occurs much more often than the isolated incident the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement found in the 2016 election.

“I don’t think you can argue that, because there’s not court cases, that it’s not a problem,” said Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford. “It’s easy to vote a lot of votes for people who aren’t there.”

Democrats and several people who spoke at the hearing said the proposed rules are geared to suppress voting among minorities and other groups.

“The reason that you’re passing this bill is simply for voter suppression, there’s no question about it,” said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. “What fraud has been perpetrated within this state has been so minuscule that you can’t even keep count of it.”

“I take offense when race is brought up, when suppression is brought up, because that is the refuge of scoundrels when they have no debate, is to use race as an issue,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven.

Democrats have filed their own voter ID measure that would allow voter registration on Election Day, automatically register eligible voters at the Division of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies and allow expired photo IDs to be used at the polls as long as they still resemble the voter.

“Don’t make this complicated. Don’t disenfranchise voters. That is the intent of what the majority is doing,” said Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham. “We are here to protect voters rights, to encourage voting and to give everyone in this state a voice.”

The bill allows three exceptions to the photo ID requirement: a religious objection to have a photo taken, a natural disaster that occurs with 100 days of an election or a reasonable impediment to obtaining an ID.

A “reasonable impediment” includes a lost or stolen ID or a disability or family or work responsibilities that make getting an ID difficult. For elections in 2019, not knowing the new ID requirement also would be accepted as a reasonable impediment.

Anyone meeting one of the three exceptions would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit under penalty of perjury that he or she is the person allowed to vote who appeared at the polling place and stating the reason for not having a photo ID. County elections officials would then decide whether to count each provisional ballot.

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