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Should 'I didn't know' be an excuse to vote without ID?

Vote Here sign
Erik Hersman
Creative Commons

State House Speaker Tim Moore says the current plan to introduce voter ID this year will make it too easy for voters to cast ballots without a photo identification.

Thanks to a recent court ruling, voters in this fall’s municipal elections will be asked for a photo ID at the polls. A recent amendment to the state constitution requires voter ID, but the law has been blocked by courts in recent elections.

But voters won’t be automatically turned away if they show up without an ID. They could still vote by filling out a "reasonable impediment" form that explains why they couldn’t follow the requirement.

The current draft of the State Board of Elections' reasonable impediment form for voter ID.
The current draft of the State Board of Elections' reasonable impediment form for voter ID.

Moore says he’s considering further legislation to tweak that process.

"One of the things that I didn’t like was there was a provision where, under the reasonable impediment, where a voter could just check a box and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that was the law,'" Moore told reporters Thursday. "Since when have we ever said that not knowing the law was an excuse not to follow it? I thought that was ridiculous."

He says the House's elections committee will likely meet during the week of Aug. 14, to look at legislation to revise election laws.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

The State Board of Elections plans to change the form when it meets this month, dropping the check box for voters to say they didn’t know about ID rules. But they could still write down that explanation under the "other reasonable impediment" section of the form and cast a provisional ballot.

Under state law, "the county board of elections is required to count the ballot of an eligible voter claiming an exception and using the Exception Form, unless the county board unanimously finds that the voter provided false information on the form," State Board of Elections attorney Paul Cox wrote in an email.

The voter ID law passed in 2018 specifically lists "not being aware of the requirement" as a reasonable impediment for the 2019 election, which had been scheduled as the first election with ID required before courts blocked the law.

Elections officials say they need more funding to educate voters about the ID requirement. "The State Board remains hopeful that the budget will include funding to ensure that the state’s 7.3 million voters are fully informed of the photo ID requirement to vote," Cox said. "That would certainly minimize lack of awareness as a potential reason for a voter not presenting ID when voting."

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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