Lawmakers in the state House have passed a bill that would require residents to present photo identification at the polls.
The measure passed 81-36. The outcome wasn’t surprising to opponents of the measure, who’ve faced an uphill battle with the bill’s Republican sponsors.
Right after House Bill 589 was passed Wednesday evening, members of the state NAACP gathered on the front lawn of the General Assembly, where they sang a popular civil rights anthem for reporters and bystanders. Reverend William Barber, the state president of the group, said the measure rolls back the gains of the civil rights era.
"This bill amounts to nothing more than voter suppression, no matter how calm and civil this debate appeared today. This bill is uncivil, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and we will challenge it," said Barber.
Barber said his group is planning acts of civil disobedience to protest the measure. As he spoke, he was surrounded by college students who attend a mix of both private and public schools in the state. The bill would allow residents to use a number of kinds of IDs to vote, including those from public universities. But students at private universities are excluded- and Barber said that’s not fair.
"They said there are going to be two classes of voters. You go to North Carolina Central like I did, you go to North Carolina State, then your ID is accepted. You go to Shaw that’s in the heart of this city, you go to St. Augs or Duke like I did for my master’s, then your ID doesn’t count."
Republican lawmakers who’re sponsoring the bill say there’s a reason for that. In debate over the measure on the House floor, Representative Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte said you have to draw the line somewhere:
"so we said we would do government-issued IDs, once we go to private universities, then what about our businesses? Bank of America is a large business that has ID cards, but then you get down to the smaller business ID cards."
Democratic representative Alma Adams challenged Samuelson by introducing an amendment to allow students at public and private schools to use their IDs.
"There are 89 thousand students in these 36 schools who attend these colleges. So you really think that we should draw the line and x out these 89 thousand students," asked Adams.
Samuelson replied, "We’re not x-ing out these students, we’re making sure that people who have a government issued ID are allowed to vote." But the amendment failed, as did five others that would have eased some of the restrictions of the current bill.
Yet another amendment passed that would allow members of state-recognized Native American groups to use their tribal ID cards at the polls. The bill already allows members of the federally recognized Cherokee tribe to use their IDs. Democrat Charles Graham of Lumberton, who is a Lumbee Indian, sponsored the amendment.
"I had to present several documents to prove who I was, that I am a member of the tribe, I had to submit a certified birth certificate, I had to have my parents certified birth certificate documented, I had to go through a number of steps to prove that I was a tribal member," said Graham.
Two other amendments also passed the House yesterday- one of them would waive the rule for photo IDs for victims of natural disasters. Another would require the state Board of Elections to distribute information in rural counties about Department of Motor Vehicles mobile units. The bill now goes to the Senate.