News: CJ Exclusives

Voter ID delay passes House unanimously, heads to governor

CJ photo by Kari Travis
CJ photo by Kari Travis

The House unanimously passed Senate Bill 214 Wednesday, March 13, to drop voter identification requirements from 2019 elections, and sent it to Gov. Roy Cooper.

The bill removed student IDs as an acceptable photo ID for casting ballots. The first time university-issued student identification and state agency employee IDs could be used to vote would be 2021.

House Rules Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said the delay is necessary because two special congressional elections are scheduled this year. The process to complete photo identification rules wouldn’t be done in time to include those elections. The 3rd Congressional District seat is open because Republican U.S. Rep. Walter Jones died. A new election was ordered in the 9th Congressional District after state investigators unearthed widespread election fraud. Federal and state investigations of the election fraud continue.

Lewis said S.B. 214 would ensure a uniform process for all elections this year, including municipal elections scheduled in the fall.

Lewis said delaying the photo ID mandate, which voters passed as a constitutional amendment Nov. 6, was necessary because voting by mail begins Friday in the 3rd District. That doesn’t leave enough time for counties to implement bipartisan legislation the House passed unanimously to reform voting by mail.

“Without clear rules we would be impeding the right to vote for military voters in the home of one of the largest military bases in world,” Lewis said. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune is in the 3rd District.

The measure sailed through debate and passed 116-0. Some observers anticipated legislative fireworks after senators passed the measure on a 29-21 vote Tuesday. None occurred.

Rep. Ray Russell, D-Watauga, offered an amendment to extend the compliance deadline for universities and community colleges by six months, letting students and state workers use IDs in elections this year. It was rejected.

“The process is already full of confusion,” Russell said. The State Board of Elections didn’t meet the statutory requirement to get timely information to universities to allow them to meet Wednesday’s deadline to submit requests for their student IDs to be used, he said. Private and historically black colleges and universities would be especially disadvantaged.

Lewis didn’t disagree, but said it was more important to meet Friday’s federal election deadlines for military and other absentee voters. Adding the amendment would force the bill to return to the Senate for concurrence.

Lewis pledged the General Assembly would vote this session to allow secure student IDs to be used in elections.

Earlier in the day, State Board of Elections Executive Director Kim Strach told the House Elections and Ethics Law Committee 47 universities and state agencies submitted requests to allow their student and employee identifications to be used for voting. She did not have a breakdown of those numbers.

Strach said current legislation is clear that universities and state agencies would have to wait until 2021 to use their state-issued IDs for voting if they are not approved this year. She must approve or reject requests and notify applicants by Friday, and has little discretion under the law.

UNC System Senior Vice President and General Counsel Tom Shanahan issued a statement Wednesday saying the system office expected all 17 of its institutions to submit request letters by Wednesday’s deadline.