By Pamela Pearson, VoteRiders' General Counsel and North Carolina Voter ID Coalition Coordinator
For voters living in North Carolina, feeling confident they understand whether the state has a voter identification requirement is most definitely not a given.
Over the past decade, the North Carolina General Assembly (the state legislature known as NCGA) has passed several different voter ID bills. All have been vetoed, or they were struck down because the courts found that the lawmakers’ intent was to make it harder for Black citizens to vote.
In 2018, the NCGA’s efforts to require NC voters to produce a photo ID took a different tack by adding a proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot. On November 8, North Carolina voters approved the amendment with 55% of them voting “yes.”
However, at the same time, NC voters elected enough Democratic representatives in both the House and the Senate to break the Republican supermajorities. As a consequence, it would be more difficult to pass a strict voter ID bill once the new legislators took their seats in 2019.
So, in a lame-duck special session in December 2018, the NCGA crafted another bill to spell out how the voter ID law would work. Which IDs were included or excluded (like public assistance cards) were once again based on data the NCGA collected in 2015 concerning which IDs Black voters were least likely to have. The bill was vetoed by the Governor, but with its still intact supermajorities, the NCGA overrode the veto and the bill became the new law in North Carolina.
What did this mean for voters? That photo ID would be required beginning with 2020 elections.
Lawsuits were filed in the months that followed and in December 2019, a federal court ruled that the photo ID law would not go into effect until the case was decided. In early February 2020, a North Carolina state appeals court made a similar ruling. As a result, no ID was required in the March 2020 primary.
So, you’re wondering, what does this mean for the upcoming general election in November? That’s uncertain. Given the partial closure of the courts, it appears unlikely that either or both of the court cases will be concluded and enable the injunctions to be lifted in time for the printing and mailing of absentee ballots to NC voters – absentee ballots will be mailed out beginning September 4. This means that during the November General Election, people who are registered and have voted before in North Carolina will NOT need a photo ID to vote.
But there will still be certain voters who need ID to vote in November, whether they are voting in person or by absentee ballot. Here are the current rules for first-time voters, including those who have not voted in a previous Federal election or who have never voted in their county of residence in a Federal election:
- You must include on your voter registration application: 1) your NC driver’s license number 2) NC state ID number, or 3) the last four digits of your social security number.
- If you didn’t include one of these numbers, you must submit an ID to vote in person or by absentee ballot. The list of acceptable IDs to vote includes a copy of a current utility bill, check, bank statement, or government document. Your ID must show your name and current address.
- If you are voting by absentee ballot (and, again, didn’t include one of these numbers), you will need to make a copy of your ID and enclose it in your ballot envelope. What if you don’t have access to a copier due to the pandemic? What if the libraries are closed or you aren’t comfortable going to public places during COVID? VoteRiders’ new program, Photocopy my ID, will help voters who need that copy. For more information, call or text our Voter ID Helpline: 844-338-8743 (844-33-VTRID).
And since North Carolina has a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID, it’s likely that all NC voters will need an ID of some kind for future elections. We just don’t know yet what the law will require. What we do know is that confusion and uncertainty are the enemies of confident, eligible voters. A North Carolina study by Stanford University proved that confusion over voter ID in itself creates a deterrent effect – that is, even when voter ID is not required, a significant number of voters will not even try to vote because they believe or aren’t sure that they are allowed to do so without an ID.
What is the solution? In my view, clarity and fairness. First, the law and any communications must be clear and easy for all voters to understand. Second, the state should provide education so that voters understand what is expected of them and feel confident that they have what they need to cast a ballot that will be counted.