Any NC Voter ID Law Will Face Legal, GOP Obstacles
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Pat McCrory and Republican legislative leaders pledged that if elected, they would undo vetoes from Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue that GOP legislators could not override because they lacked enough votes.
At the top of the list was the 2011 bill requiring voters to show photo identification to cast ballots in person.
"If we require an ID to get Sudafed ... then I think an ID is good enough for the voting box in North Carolina," McCrory said in October, referring to a law requiring purchasers of certain cold medicines to show photo ID.
Fulfilling their pledge is nearly certain because McCrory was elected governor and Republicans expanded their House and Senate majorities.
"I expect a voter ID bill to be passed in the very near future and I will sign that bill," McCrory said this past week.
But getting a bill to McCrory won't be simple, with some lawmakers insistent on a tough photo ID measure and others comfortable with some non-photo documents. And while 11 states required voters to show some form of photo identification in November, photo ID laws in six other states were in legal limbo for 2012, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"We're going to have to be smart about how we do this," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Election Law Committee and a primary sponsor of the 2011 voter ID bill involved in fashioning this year's legislation.
North Carolina Republicans have said they wanted the photo ID requirement to ensure the integrity of elections and discourage voter fraud. But Democrats and civil rights groups have accused Republicans of passing voter ID because many people who don't have photo identification - the poor and minorities - disproportionately vote Democratic. They say that fraud is extremely rare and that photo ID would erode voting rights expanded over the past 50 years.
"These are battles that we already have fought," said the Rev. William Barber, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina. He said any law restricting access to the polls by registered voters will probably be met by a lawsuit: "We're going to force an examination under the standard of the constitution."
Hard-line resolve by McCrory and House and Senate leaders for a voter ID measure was set aside as the 2013 legislative session began this past week.
Neither Senate leader Phil Berger nor House Speaker Thom Tillis mentioned voter ID in their acceptance speeches when they were re-elected as chamber leaders. Instead, they focused upon overhauling the tax system, reducing regulations, and improving public school student and teacher performance. But both said later in interviews voter ID would be debated.
McCrory, while visiting the Legislature's opening day ceremonies, sounded like a new governor keeping his options open. While McCrory said he still prefers a photo ID law, he'd be willing to sign a bill into law that contains "other options" to prove identity, such as a voter registration card.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said he hopes McCrory will urge lawmakers to be reasonable on the issue, not divisive. But Hall pointed out Republicans at the Legislature can do as they please if they are able to keep their caucuses united because large GOP majorities can trump any McCrory veto.
In 2011, Perdue vetoed a Republican-penned bill requiring a person arriving at a precinct to show one of eight forms of photo ID, including a new voter card available for free. People without IDs could still cast provisional ballots but would have to prove their identity later.
Hall and Lewis had worked on a compromise that year that would have allowed voter registration cards, utility bills and pay stubs as proof of identity, but it lacked enough votes for passage. The outcome of a similar bill is unclear given that more than 50 new lawmakers joined the Legislature this month. Many new Republicans believe they have a mandate to vote for photo ID.
"I expect a voter ID bill to have a photo ID requirement," said first-term Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Onslow. "Hopefully we won't have a problem getting it passed."
Lewis said an idea now being discussed would essentially phase-in the photo ID requirement, possibly beyond the November 2014 election. He said people without photo IDs initially could still cast ballots, but there would be efforts to help them obtain ID cards.
An analysis by the State Board of Elections matching voter rolls with Division of Motor Vehicles records shows the names of 613,000 registered voters may not match with driver's licenses or photo IDs issued by the DMV. The actual number is likely much less due to name changes and people holding non-active driver's licenses.
Potential voters already must show identification papers of some kind when they register, and people can face a felony conviction if they vote illegally.
Lewis said the people of the state, as reflected by the Republican majorities, expect a photo ID requirement. But he said it would be unwise to pass a version of a bill similar to those in other states that have been blocked by the U.S. Justice Department or the courts.
"We also have to be pragmatic," Lewis said.