Following nearly three years of debate, the state House Wednesday gave its approval to a bill requiring North Carolina voters to provide photo identification when they go to a polling place.
Five Democrats joined 76 Republicans in voting for the bill, as the House approved the bill by an 81-36 vote. It now goes to the Senate.
“We’re here today because our system of government depends upon open and honest elections,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who chairs the House Elections Committee.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, voiced passionate opposition to the bill, at times telling his GOP colleagues that they wouldn’t like what he had to say.
“What you are about to do is going to cause problems,” Michaux said. “You are going to be faced with a myriad of lawsuits that you are not going to be able to defend.”
The photo ID requirement would be in place for the 2016 primary and elections. They would ask elections officials to have a soft implementation of voter ID during 2014. During those elections, poll officials would ask voters if they have an ID, and if they needed help getting one. But an ID wouldn’t be required for them to vote that year.
Democrats spent much of the time Wednesday offering 10 amendments to the bill, three of which drew Republican support and were passed.
Republicans went along with efforts to add tribal IDs to the list of acceptable ID forms, allowing counties to issue photo ID cards in areas where the local Division of Motor Vehicles isn’t open five days a week, and allowing for an exemption of a photo ID in areas where a natural disaster occurred within 60 days of an election.
But they rejected Democratic attempts to tighten the absentee ballot process, allow elections officials to accept student IDs from private colleges, and allow a voter to cast a ballot if two elections officials personally know the voter.
Acceptable photo identification cards would include a driver’s license, a DMV ID card, a passport, a state or local government employee ID card, a military ID card, an ID card issued by the University of North Carolina system or community college system, or a government issued ID card to a firefighter, EMS worker, hospital employee, law enforcement, or some other local government or public authority.
Opponents argued that the photo ID effort would suppress votes and questioned that voter fraud was a problem.
“Freedom from fear is not a fundamental right, but the right to vote is,” Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland said. “This bill is using a sledgehammer to hit either a real or an imaginary fly on a glass coffee table.”
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, took issue with opponents’ claims that voter fraud wasn’t a problem.
“That assertion just isn’t true from the evidence,” Blust said, noting that people spoke out at public hearings about witnessing voter fraud.
Wednesday’s debate follows two public hearings held earlier this year by the House Elections Committee, in addition to numerous committee meetings.
Two years ago, the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a voter ID bill. However, then-Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed the bill. Lawmakers were unable to override Perdue’s veto.
This year, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, sits in the Executive Mansion. He has expressed support for a voter ID bill, although he has said he’ll leave the details of the law up to the General Assembly.
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.