In the wake of the April 28 NC Supreme Court ruling requiring government-issued photo identification in order to vote in North Carolina elections, exception forms created by the NC State Board of Elections (NCSBE) have been introduced that would allow individuals to vote without showing proper identification.

Tina Forsberg, campaign manager for NC congressional candidate Christian Castelli, raised awareness of the questionable language in the forms through a Facebook post and prompted calls for the NC General Assembly (NCGA) to take action. Many see the forms as providing a mechanism to circumvent the law requiring identification to vote, namely, the form section titled, “Reasonable Impediment” which lists various options for why an individual is unable to present the required identification.

“It’s really disappointing that Democrats on the Board of Elections are once again end-running voters and now the courts of North Carolina. We must be able to have confidence in our election process, and that includes boards and agencies abiding by the will of the people,” Forsberg told The Carolina Journal.

NC State Treasurer Dale Folwell told CJ in an interview that he is grateful to Forsberg for bringing this issue to the public eye.

“Thank God for people like Tina Forsberg. The fact that she is putting sunshine on these nonsensical forms is a blessing,” he said.

Folwell also likened the exception forms to a catfish amendment, a term used by legislators to describe statutory or regulatory language designed to undermine legislative intent.

”This seems very much like something that happens in the legislature, which is sometimes referred to as a catfish amendment,” Folwell said. “It smells, looks, and feels like a catfish form, which is meant to do away with the intent of the General Assembly.”

Both the absentee and in-person exception forms are not readily apparent to viewers via the NCSBE website. Users must click on several tabs in order to access them by navigating to the site’s meeting minutes section and clicking on the meeting minute documents for June 27, 2023.

Although the forms were unanimously approved by the five-member board at their June 27 meeting, all election-related rules are temporary until given final approval by the Rules Review Commission for the upcoming elections this year.

Patrick Gannon, public information director for the NCSBE, weighed in on the controversy, saying in an emailed statement to CJ that the forms are legal and that critics misunderstand the functionality of them.

“The exception forms are required by the photo ID law. See GS 163-166.16(d) and (e),” Gannon told CJ. “Some of the criticism regarding the exceptions displays a misunderstanding of how the law operates as written. The law is designed to require photo ID when voting, but it provides broad exceptions for voters who are unable to present photo ID, to ensure that every voter who presents to vote is able to cast a ballot.”

Gannon stated that the NCGA set forth the necessary statutory parameters for the board, which inform people of their rights with respect to voting procedures.

“In fact, when the legislature enacted the photo ID requirement in 2018, it specifically instructed the State Board of Elections to inform voters of the following: ‘All registered voters will be allowed to vote with or without a photo ID card. When voting in person, you will be asked to present a valid photo identification card. If you do not have a valid photo ID card, you may obtain one from your county board of elections prior to the election, through the end of the early voting period. If you do not have a valid photo ID card on election day, you may still vote and have your vote counted by signing an affidavit of reasonable impediment as to why you have not presented a valid photo ID.’ SL 2018-144, sec. 1.5(a)(10),” Gannon said.

This sentiment was reiterated at the June 27 meeting.

The NCBSE is simply complying with laws passed by the NCGA regarding the forms, according to Gannon.

“The legislature clearly recognized that it may take some time for the state’s 7 million voters to get accustomed to this new procedure,” Gannon said. “That provision in the law allowing for this reasonable impediment was never given effect, because the photo ID requirement has not been enforced until now due to court decisions. Given all the back-and-forth about the photo ID law in the legislature and the courts, the State Board recognized that voters may understandably be confused about the photo ID requirement, and there is very little time in 2023 to educate millions of voters before this fall’s municipal elections. Additionally, there have been no funds appropriated to educate voters about this significant change in the voting process. In addition, voters who do not show an ID must complete and sign the exception form, attesting that the information they provide on the form is true, and vote a provisional ballot.”

NC state Sen. Jim Perry, R-Kinston, who serves as a Senate majority whip, stated in an email to CJ that the NCGA plans to rectify issues with the exceptions to voter ID, including the notion that the forms provide a way for the NCSBE to violate state election law.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law, nor is it an excuse for a partisan board to ignore the law,” Perry told CJ. “The Chairmen of our Election Committee are aware and will address this issue. This is unacceptable and clearly an attempt to circumvent the decision of the people to require voter ID. I believe some are playing games by referencing language that a prior General Assembly considered under a previous version of voter ID that was struck down. These temporary forms also have a section at the top that provides an assurance that your vote will count, which sets up future court cases. Only legal votes should count and we can’t guarantee that everyone who fills out a form is eligible to vote. Partisan gamesmanship is alive and well at the State Board of Elections.”