“Huge, unexpected” changes to NC’s voter ID law

Voters without an approved photo ID will be allowed to vote in 2016 – with conditions

“Voters who do not have photo identification would be able to sign a affidavit and present alternate forms of identification in order to cast a ballot under a last-minute addition to an elections law bill that passed the General Assembly on Thursday,” reports WRAL News.

The agreement to allow for a “reasonable impediment declaration” in lieu of photo ID creates a small but significant exception to the 2013 voter ID law that requires virtually all voters have photo identification starting next year. That law allowed poor voters to get a free identity card from the state Division of Motor Vehicles, but voting rights advocates say that hurdles in obtaining the cards – obtaining long-lost birth records, travel time and time away from work – effectively excluded some voters from the polls.

“There are still miles to go to undo the voter suppression mess that’s been created by the anti-voter Monster Law, but make no mistake about it — yesterday was a victory for the people,” said Bob Hall with Democracy NC in an email to supporters about the surprise change.

The new provisions in HB-836, passed by wide margins in both the NC Senate and House yesterday, add a measure of protection for legitimate voters, a back-up way to provide documentation or confidential data that verify the person at the poll is the voter.  The new “reasonable impediment” provision still requires the extra time and uncertainty of filling out a provisional ballot, but now there’s a better chance that the vote will actually be counted.

In the context of a needless and likely unconstitutional law, this is clearly a victory for citizens and citizen participation. During his comments yesterday about HB-836, Rep. David Lewis acknowledged the importance of citizen voices at the recent voter ID rule-making hearings across the state. Democracy North Carolina played a leading role in encouraging hundreds of citizens to attend and speak out at these hearings, and we will continue to work hard to make sure no one is blocked from voting.

Two other points about today’s changes are vitally important. First, most states with ID provisions include versions of the back-up protections adopted in HB-836; not including them threatened to sink the entire ID requirement in a fair court of law.

Second, other provisions remain in the anti-voter Monster Law that are already denying honest citizens their right to vote. Earlier this week, Democracy NC released a report that identified 2,344 voters whose ballots were rejected in 2014 because of changes made by that law; their ballots would have counted in 2012. They are the visible tip of the iceberg of tens of thousands of voters harmed by the many parts of the Monster Law.

We hope that these other measures, along with the convoluted ID requirement, will soon be struck down in court – particularly the elimination of same-day registration, pre-registration for teens, and out-of-precinct provisional ballots.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP is suing Governor McCrory to have the entire 2013 voter law thrown out. That case goes to trial on July 13 in Winston-Salem, where voting rights supporters plan to march in a Mass Moral Monday for voting rights.