The Senate gave tentative approval to House Bill 1092, a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote in North Carolina elections.
Senators also voted 46-0 to approve House Bill 335, restoring the last Saturday before the 2018 general election to the early voting schedule. The House later voted 99-2 to concur with the change.
Senators debated the bills Thursday, June 28, in a heated atmosphere. Black Democratic senators accused majority Republicans of pushing race-based laws to suppress minority voting, and GOP senators pushed back on what they consider politically loaded and unfounded narratives.
The Senate voted 33-14 on H.B. 1092, the voter photo ID, but both Democrats and Republicans objected to what is typically a pro forma but required third vote. That will be taken on Friday, and if successful, the constitutional amendment will be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The House passed the bill earlier by a 74-43 margin.
The Senate Rules Committee made last-minute changes Thursday to H.B. 335, stripping out its judicial vacancy appointment language, and replacing it with the revived early voting hours.
Senate Bill 325, expanding and standardizing early voting times and days, eliminated that day of early voting in favor of another day. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure, but lawmakers voted to override his veto this week.
The concession was made in the face of backlash among Democrats, and minority voters in particular, for whom that was the most popular day for one-stop early voting. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said he regretted H.B. 335 was written only for the 2018 election, and not made permanent.
“For 200 years we voted in one day, and now we’ve got nearly two weeks of early voting, and a half a day is going to disproportionately affect certain groups? No,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph. Notwithstanding his remarks, the bill passed 46-0, and was sent to the House for concurrence.
Lengthy debate on the photo voter ID measure was much more acrimonious.
“This bill as it is structured disproportionately impacts minority voters,” McKissick said. “There are lots of people who don’t have the requisite identification to vote” in his district, he said, and probably throughout the state.
“Voter ID laws are strategies — that’s what it seems like it is — to prevent communities of color from having access to ballots, and participating in this democratic process,” said Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg.
“Do you want voter suppression to define who you are as a supermajority?” asked Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford.
“Republicans are stoking fears and distrust in our electoral system,” said Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe. She said former Gov. Pat McCrory falsely accused more than 500 voters of casting fraudulent ballots in trying to reverse his losing re-election bid to Gov. Roy Cooper, intimidating voters’ and damaging their reputations.
Democrats repeatedly said the state elections board has not identified voter fraud as a problem in state elections. They told a number of anecdotal stories about people who would not be able to vote under the proposed photo voter ID provisions.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, disputed Democrats’ contention voter fraud does not exist in North Carolina with anecdotes of her own.
She said in 2008 the state elections board director admitted finding 150 fraudulent registrations in Wake and Durham counties. “The perpetrators were the criminal enterprise that we later knew as ACORN, who were illegally registering a lot of voters.”
She said voter registration rolls in several counties exceed 100 percent of the voting age population, and 500 Wake County residents on voter registration rolls disqualified themselves from jury duty because they weren’t citizens or legally registered to vote.
There are 30,000 dead people still on voter registration rolls in the state, Krawiec said, and yet some had voted. In 2016 498 people showed up to vote with provisional ballots only to find out someone already voted in their name.
“Everyone wants to make the legally and politically charged argument” that voter ID advocates seek to suppress minority votes, said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Elections.
“Nothing suppresses the votes of racial minorities more than their votes being canceled by someone who votes illegally,” Hise said. “I am fighting today to protect the vote of every North Carolinian.”
Hise said as a lifelong resident of Appalachia he knows impoverished white communities historically have been prone to voter fraud, and said lots of people have stories about it.
“They’ll tell you how elections were stole, how ballots were sold for half pints of liquor, how they used to carry blank ballots out and pay people when they left, and sent marked ballots back in,” Hise said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said it was regrettable debate focused on insinuations of racial bias.
“I just have a hard time understanding how this is playing out,” Brown said. “I think that the thing that aggravates or frustrates so many of us is some of you act like we’re racists, and we’re this or we’re that, and I think most of us get pretty offended about that, because that’s just not the case.”
Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton, referenced a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding provisions in a previous elections omnibus bill enacted by majority Republicans, and containing a voter ID provision, “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, responded that the ruling also stated voter identification for elections is not unconstitutional. He said 36 states have some form of voter ID, and 17 of those adopted photo voter ID since 2006, with more likely to follow.