While we’d certainly rather not have a voter ID law at all, this week the North Carolina General Assembly reconvened to introduce new bills in the House and Senate. Senate Bill 824 was introduced late Tuesday afternoon and passed out of the committee after a brief 30 minutes to review the 16 page document.

Although they appear to adopt a much more “reasonable” approach, there are still major concerns with the bill, including: 

  • The implementation timeline and plan is rushed and incomplete
  • There is no indication how it will be paid for or even what the costs will be
  • There is a heavy reliance on provisional ballots

This latest version does include several improvements over the initial draft bill, which include expanding acceptable college IDs to eligible private colleges and community colleges (to be reviewed every four years), government employee IDs, and a special ID provided for those experiencing homelessness or with revoked driver’s licenses. In addition, they have allowed provisional ballots for those who lost their ID due to a federally declared disaster, those with a religious objection to having their picture taken, or those with a “reasonable impediment”. While these are improvements, they come with their own concerns.

Keep in mind the stated purpose of this legislation is only to require photographic proof that the person voting matches a photo and name on an ID, and that name matches the voter registration roll. The ID does not need to document a residency (confirmed in this bill) or prove citizenship in any way. That process is done at the time of registration.

Here are some questions and concerns which we feel should be fully explored and answered before this legislation is considered further:

  1. Timeline: The timeline of implementing this by May 1, 2019 should be a test only, with full implementation set for a later period after an extensive voter education campaign can be rolled out and any glitches can be worked through. After 3 years of voter education on the 2013 law, there were still over a thousand confused and disenfranchised voters.
  2. Training Plan: A full training plan should be set by the State Board of Elections, and distributed to each County BOE so there is consistency across the state with the thousands of precinct officials who will be tasked with this process. This is especially concerning when we consider our transgender citizens.
  3. Availability: ID cards provided by the County BOEs should be made available at any time, not just up until the voter registration deadline. This includes the ability to provide IDs on the spot during Early Voting one stop locations. If you can register and vote at one stop sites, you should be able to obtain an eligible ID if needed as well. A provision on page 11 states no photographs are allowed within one stop voting sites without the permission of the chief judge of the precinct.
  4. Acceptable ID: There is a list of 12 acceptable IDs in Senate Bill 824 {Sect. 1.2(a)}. One concern is that tribal enrollment cards issued by tribes must be issued to the same standards for approved college ID cards which includes SSN, DOB and citizenship confirmation. Again, a photo ID should only be for facial and name matching purposes.
  5. Expiration: Expiration dates should not be a concern when the purpose is just to match a name with a photo. If expiration dates are waived for those over age 65, they should be waived for everyone.
  6. Government Issued IDs: Government employee IDs are recognized, but what about other government issued IDs which are not employee based?
  7. Exceptions allowed: There are three listed exceptions which allow for a provisional ballot to be cast. Why shouldn’t these voters be offered a regular ballot? If someone has a religious objection or was a victim of a disaster, they should not be penalized with a provisional ballot, which often times do not get offered or may not be counted. In addition, the “reasonable impediment” exceptions are not listed, and seem to be at the discretion of election officials. This should be covered in a training manual, and privacy concerns should be considered on behalf of the voter as well.
  8. College IDs: The requirements placed on colleges should be reviewed with representatives from those institutions to ensure there is no additional burden that can not be met easily. The bill requires that all student IDs be issued after confirming the student’s SSN and citizenship status. In addition, the school must comply with any reasonable security measures determined by the State BOE in order to protect the security of the student identification process. Why?
  9. Voter Education: The voter education timeline includes references to seminars being held in each county by Sept. 1, 2019 but the primary elections in 2019 are prior to that. The State BOE is also required to notify each voter who does not have a NCDL or ID card before Sept 1, 2019 and advise them of the process to obtain an ID card. Again, this is after the spring 2019 primary election implementation date.
  10. Personal Judgement: Poll workers would have the authority to judge if a person “looks like” his or her picture. Poll workers should be trained to give voters the benefit of the doubt. Along with a handful of other subjective criteria, ANY registered voter within the county could challenge another registered voter’s right to vote. This should be explored further, as we saw fraudulent challenges in the 2016 election, and voters had to go to court to clear their names.
  11. Mail-In Ballots: Sect. 3.4(a) appears to deny the right of a person to vote by mail if the Postal Service has returned as undeliverable a notice sent within 25 days of an election. This may be a problem for ex-pats and students studying abroad.
  12. Funding: The funding allotted for the bill appears to come from the entire Voter Education Fund which is not outlined. There are no publicly available estimates for the cost to implement at this time. There needs to be additional funding to cover staffing, materials, and equipment as well as the current voter education materials provided. More input is needed from the Boards of Elections and County Commissioners.
  13. Independent Commission: All laws pertaining to voting and elections should be taken out of the hands of those being elected. Just as we advocate for an independent commission for redistricting, we want to see an independent commission to draft voting laws. Then we could fully explore modernizing our voter rolls, and other options which would provide more secure elections.

To give credit where due, legislators have heard concerns and incorporated some suggestions, but much more time is needed to plan, fund and properly execute a bill of this magnitude. The people of NC have spoken and voted for photo ID, but the devil is in the details when just one vote can change the balance of an entire legislature as we saw in Alaska and Virginia this year. If the goal is truly election integrity, then our legislators should have the integrity to slow down, put together an independent commission to study and plan, and ensure that not a single North Carolinian’s right to vote will be jeopardized in what is becoming a quick scramble to change our constitution.