Voter ID Proposed Again, This Time As Change To Constitution
Updated 8:52 a.m. | June 8, 2018
Republicans are poised again to advance a photo identification requirement to vote in North Carolina, despite their previous attempt getting struck down by federal judges.
House Speaker Tim Moore and other GOP representatives filed Thursday a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would ask voters to decide whether a photo ID requirement should be added to the current qualifications to vote. If the referendum is agreed to by the both Senate and House, the question would be on ballots statewide in November.
The GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a detailed photo ID law in 2013, but a federal appeals court determined three years later that the mandate and other restrictions contained in the measure were passed with discriminatory intent toward black voters.
GOP legislators rejected that determination, and said the law was designed to restore confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud.
"The voters of North Carolina deserve a chance to weigh in on securing their own rights in the democratic process, and will have the final say on strengthening election protections," Moore said in a news release announcing the bill filing.
Constitutional proposals require yes votes from three-fifths of each chamber's membership. Republicans hold enough seats to exceed that if they remain united. No timeline was released on considering the measure. The legislative session is expected to end by the end of the month.
"If it comes over to the Senate I'm confident it will enjoy wide support," Senate leader Phil Berger said in an interview.
The 2013 legislation was signed into law by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a fellow Republican. Current Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, strongly opposed the law while attorney general. But Cooper would have no formal say over the fate of a proposed amendment. Legislation directing a constitutional referendum be held isn't subject to a governor's veto.
The proposed constitutional amendment doesn't explain what shape voter ID requirements would take. If a referendum is approved by a majority of voters in November, legislators would have to pass a separate law to implement the requirement.
Thirty-four states have laws requiring or requesting voters show some identification at the polls, including every state in the Southeast except North Carolina, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia require photo identification, NCSL says.
The 2013 measure required a registered voter to show one of six qualifying IDs before casting a ballot. There were exceptions to those unable to obtain an ID. The mandate was carried out for two primary elections in March 2016 and June 2016.
A month later, a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the ID mandate as well as other provisions contained in the law that reduced the number of early voting days and eliminated same-day registration during the early-voting period.
The panel wrote that the provision targeted "African Americans with almost surgical precision," citing legislative documents, and said the state provided no evidence of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address.
The U.S. Supreme Court decided last year to leave the 4th Circuit's ruling in place. But Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the decision wasn't based on how the justices viewed the substance of the law.
Voting and civil rights groups criticized the amendment idea, saying it's just an alternate method to suppress voting among groups who are more likely to lack qualified identification — particularly ethnic minorities, older citizens and students.
"It's unfortunate that legislators think that they can hide another unconstitutional voter suppression effort by putting it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and trying to trick voters into doing their dirty work for them," said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who represented some of the groups and voters who originally sued over the law.
Republicans have cited polls showing broad public support for voter ID, and such a question could help the GOP attract supporters to the polls in an election year when Democrats are seeking to take control of the legislature for the first time since 2010. But it could also energize opponents.