After years of trying to pass laws to require photo IDs for voting, the Republican-led legislature finally succeeded grandly on Nov. 6 when its proposed constitutional amendment requiring such passed with a solid 55.6 percent of the vote. Now lawmakers should create regulations that make photo IDs accessible to any eligible resident who desires to vote.
Republican legislators who tried to pass photo ID laws in the past have consistently claimed they were necessary to prevent voter fraud, despite the lack of substantial evidence that such a threat existed. In 2013, such an attempt was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated plainly its conclusion that the provision was intended to target African-Americans, who were more likely to vote for Democrats.
Republicans consistently have denied an illicit motive.
Yes, the proposal sounds so reasonable on its surface: We use photo IDs for everything, don’t we? (No.) Doesn’t everyone have one? (No, everyone doesn’t.)
Now it’s scheduled to become part of the state’s DNA. But the amendment as passed remains a blank check that legislators — current and future — can fill in as the winds of political convenience blow. They still have to decide the initial particulars of what IDs will be acceptable at the voting booth — drivers licenses, certainly, but what about workplace IDs? Military IDs? Passports? Will college photo IDs be acceptable, or will legislators take another opportunity to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters?
How difficult will it be to obtain an acceptable photo ID? How much time, paperwork and expense will be involved? (Any expense turns this into a poll tax.)
The answers to these questions will reveal the true motives of Republican legislators — and could set the stage for further legal action. The legislature is expected to write the rules during a special session that begins on Nov. 27, the last time its veto-proof Republican supermajority will meet. It would be wiser and more fair to wait until January, when the newly elected, more balanced legislature is sworn in, but that’s not the way these leaders roll.
Or course, this could go the other way. Along with accepting a wide range of photo IDs, the legislature could institute voter-drive efforts that encourage and enable North Carolina residents to acquire the necessary IDs before the next election. It could require employers to allow their employees to take time from work to get the necessary documents to register. It could beef up personnel in DMV offices and dedicate lines to voters who want to acquire non-driver IDs.
The legislature could also create an independent, nonpartisan voter ID commission to create fair policies that turn North Carolina into a good-voting state.
Our state has earned a reputation for heavy-handed politics, thanks to a legislature that has gerrymandered, suppressed votes and plotted to take power from the other branches of government. This final session will be an opportunity to make one last grab for power — or to turn the page to a new day of supporting voter rights.
Most citizens want our elections to be fair, as well as transparent and reliable. Most citizens also want every eligible vote to be counted. We deserve a legislature that agrees.