House Republicans have rolled out their voter identification bill.
While it has some resemblance to the one vetoed in the previous legislative session by former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, it also has a significant number of differences.
Still in the bill are strict photo ID requirements for most voters. And most of the acceptable IDs voters can present remain the same — a driver’s license, DMV-issued ID card, passport, state employee ID card, or a tribal ID card.
The new bill would expand the allowable photo ID cards to include cards issued by the UNC and community college systems, or identification cards issued to firefighters, EMS, hospital employees, or law enforcement officers. Cards would be valid up to 10 years after they expire, and voters 70 and older could use the photo ID card they had on their 70th birthday, provided it was still valid on that date.
The state also would pay for ID cards and supporting documents (such as a birth certificate) for people demonstrating a financial hardship. A voter requesting free documents would have to certify, under penalty of perjury, that the expense for those documents would create a financial hardship.
“The citizens of North Carolina want some form of voter ID legislation,” House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said during a Thursday morning press conference. He said he believed voter ID would restore a “level of confidence” in the elections system.
Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, said the photo ID requirement would take effect Jan. 1, 2016, for the 2016 elections, but the bill’s requirements would be tested earlier to see if the mandate caused any problems at polling places or in county election boards.
“We will do soft launches in the 2014 elections to see who does not have a photo ID,” Murry said. “There’s a long lead-in time.”
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the voter ID bill would face another hearing in the House Elections Committee on April 10.
“It’s expected that the bill will most likely be voted upon in committee on April 17,” Moore said.
The bill would likely come up for a floor vote around April 22 or 23, Moore said.
Sarah Preston, a lobbyist for the ACLU of North Carolina, said she still had some qualms with the voter ID proposal.
“We certainly would have concerns about any additional hurdles for folks trying to get in to vote,” Preston said. “We see it as central to our democracy, a fundamental right. So any additional hurdles, we do have concerns about.”
“We would like to see a legislature that’s focused more on making sure that every eligible voter can access the right to vote, as opposed to finding ways to make it a little more challenging for voters,” Preston continued.
Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, said between the time the bill is passed and 2016, when the photo ID requirement would take effect, voters would be asked if they need assistance obtaining a photo ID.
The bill would require the State Board of Elections to study the idea of providing a statewide photo database and using “electronic poll books with digital photographs of registered voters.”
It also would tighten up identification requirements for people casting absentee ballots. People requesting absentee ballots by mail would have to provide certain identifying information, such as a driver’s license number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number.
GOP leaders said they did not know how much the provisions of the voter ID would cost.
Tillis said that having a photo ID would provide benefits for North Carolinians beyond voting.
“It is in every citizen’s best interest to have some way to prove their identification, whether they choose to vote or not,” Tillis said. “There are a variety of benefits, and I think that they’re enabling to the population that does not currently have a valid ID.”
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.