Republican leaders in the state House have unveiled details of their long-awaited Voter ID bill.
The measure would require most North Carolinians to bring photo identification with them to the polls, beginning in 2016. It would allow residents to use a number of different kinds of IDs in order to vote.
Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis told a news conference earlier today that weeks of discussions have gone into creating this bill.
Back in 2011, state lawmakers passed a Voter ID measure that would’ve required residents to present one of eight forms of photo identification in order to vote. Governor Bev Perdue vetoed it. But Tillis says this bill isn’t like the old one.
"I think you will see that it’s very different from the bill that was passed last year it’s trying to take into account a number of the concerns that were raised," he says. "I think it’s technically a better bill and a bill that will withstand any challenge that comes to us in the way of the courts."
Tillis says this measure is a compromise that probably won’t satisfy everyone on both sides of the aisle. It would require nearly all voters to present photo IDs at the polls, except for people who are disabled.
Representative Tom Murry of Morrisville says, "We are going to allow for multiple forms of state issued IDs, including drivers licenses, non-operators licenses, student IDS from state institutions, employee IDs from state employees, travel cards, we’re also going to be developing a state-wide photo database."
The list does not include IDs from private colleges in the state, but adults over the age of 70 would be allowed to use expired licenses. According to Republican Representative Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte, most voters without photo IDs of any kind would have to get one.
"They can get a non-operator card from DMV," Samuelson says. "We will cover the cost if they have a financial hardship. So the fee for the card will be waived if they’re willing to sign that they have a financial hardship and cannot afford them, as well as any fees for the documents required in order to get the non-operator ID."
Voters who come to the polls without photo IDs could still cast a provisional ballot, but they would have to return later with their IDs in order to be counted. Sarah Preston is the policy director of North Carolina’s ACLU. She appreciates Republican leaders’ willingness to listen to people’s concerns about the measure. But she has reservations about requiring voters to have photo identification in order to vote:
"Obviously, there are going to be costs associated with it," she says. "For some people they may not meet the criteria that’s laid out to get the free ID, but getting all that supporting documentation and getting the ID could still be very challenging for them."
Preston says it’s easy to imagine having to make multiple visits to the Division of Motor Vehicles in order to receive an ID. Residents would have to pay for that ID, and they might have to pay an additional fee to request a birth certificate or other document proving their identity. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents are currently without photo identification. And Democrats say that group of voters tends to favor their party.
"This is all obviously part of a plan to disenfranchise voters," says Democratic Senator Martin Nesbitt of Asheville.
He told another news conference earlier today to beware of the Voter ID bill, and another bill with an unfortunate number- Senate Bill 666. That bill would ban parents from qualifying for tax deductions if their voting-age children register somewhere else. It would also repeal same-day voter registration, eliminate satellite voting sites, and curtail early voting.
A public hearing on the Voter ID bill is scheduled for next Wednesday.