The House Rules Committee passed two potential constitutional amendments Thursday. If added to the House calendar, and passed by at least 72 members of the House (three-fifths of the chamber), the amendments will appear on the November ballot.
The committee passed Senate Bill 677, which would enshrine the right to hunt and fish, by a unanimous voice vote.
Legislators also forwarded House Bill 1092, introducing a photo ID requirement to vote. The committee passed a revised version of the bill on party lines, 21-9, after lengthy debate.
Under H.B. 1092, the General Assembly would decide the forms of photo identification voters must provide if the amendment passes. The requirements may resemble those from the state’s 2013 voter ID law struck down by federal courts.
In a recorded video message, former General Assembly senior legal counsel Gerry Cohen urged lawmakers to reject the voter ID bill, citing a variety of concerns.
“This bill will disenfranchise voters, and it is not well thought through,” Cohen said.
Democrats took Cohen’s advice, offering changes to the bill requiring mail-in absentee ballots to include copies of voter ID, and preventing the sitting legislature from implementing the law. The second change would give Democrats more influence over voter ID if they broke the Republican supermajorities in the November election.
Both amendments failed.
Legislators debated concerns about how ID requirements would be implemented, and how existing election laws may prevent voter fraud.
Kim Strach, executive director of the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said the earlier voter ID law had a preparation and rollout period of more than two years. During that time, voters could acquire a free photo ID from the state if they did not have one. If the voter ID requirement became law, the next scheduled election would be September 2019, Strach said.
Currently, North Carolinians must provide their names and addresses to vote in person, and sign a form certifying their identity. Absentee ballots must be signed by two adult witnesses.
Representatives from several interest groups weighed in on the amendment.
The Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said he was firmly against the bill, sharing arguments that the state’s previous voter ID law was designed to discriminate against African-Americans.
“In North Carolina we know voter ID is intended to silence certain voters, and impacts many more,” Spearman said. “Although African-Americans made up only 23 percent of all voters in the March 2016 primary, they were 34 percent of the 1,400 voices silenced by the voter ID law.”
Spearman may have been referring to state research analyzed by the North Carolina Justice Center, showing 34 percent of registered voters without a valid photo ID in 2012 were African-American.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, disputed the notion that the bill had nefarious intentions.
“This issue has been far more controversial with the activist community in Raleigh and in this building than it has been with the voters,” Woodhouse said.
Woodhouse added that a new voter ID law could bring marginalized citizens out of the shadows and reassure the state’s voters.
“Many, many people in the public question why they don’t present an ID and if their vote can be disallowed or if someone else can vote in their place,” Woodhouse said. “They wonder about the security and the process. This amendment and the accompanying legislation gives us an opportunity to enhance the people’s confidence.”
A recent Civitas poll suggests 69 percent of voters would support a voter ID amendment. The amendment was backed by 92 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of Democrats surveyed.
On Twitter, Cohen recalled that in 1876, North Carolina voters approved a raft of constitutional amendments that discriminated against non-whites. “Popular but wrong,” Cohen observed.
The sponsors of the two bills, Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, respectively, said the proposals had support across the region. They pointed out that all the states surrounding North Carolina have some form of voter ID requirements and protections for hunting and fishing.