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Sunday, May 19, 2024

As the voter ID law goes into effect, opinions vary on future impact

Voting for Wilmington --- and other local municipalities --- is Tuesday, November 5. (Port City Daily photo / File)
Voting for Wilmington — and other local municipalities — is Tuesday, November 5. (Port City Daily photo / File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY – A law that has been debated in North Carolina for years — and in and out of the courts — is finally getting legs this November.

READ MORE: NHC proposes half-cent tax decrease in budget, vice chair advocates for more

The state’s voter ID law goes into effect in time for the municipal elections. Identification is now required to cast a ballot statewide. Acceptable forms of ID include an unexpired North Carolina driver’s license, United States passport, state voter identification card and a local or state government-issued ID card.

Local party leaders differ on its intent and who might be damaged in the process. Supporters say the legislation will combat voter fraud and bring integrity and fairness back to the election process. 

The law’s detractors, however, counter it will suppress voter turnout, especially  minority groups.

New Hanover County’s GOP chairman Nevin Carr III told Port City Daily there should be no issue with requiring identification to secure the election process.

“Out of all the activities where an ID is required, why is it that Democrats only take issue with having to show an ID to vote? Bringing an ID to the polls should be no more confusing or inconvenient than bringing your ID to the grocery store,” Carr wrote in an email Tuesday. “Is it just a coincidence that Democrats always seem to benefit when election systems are less secure?”

New Hanover County Democratic Party Chairwoman Jillian Hopman said the law is unnecessary and an overreach by the General Assembly.

“Before it passed, there were widespread bipartisan checks-and-balances in place to protect against voter fraud,” Hopman said.

For instance, state statute 163-275 prohibits people from casting ballots twice during an election, promising or exchanging money or gifts for votes or make false statements or changes to a ballot. Those who are in violation could be charged with a Class I felony.

However, a 2021 study from MIT suggests both parties are wrong.

The study looked at every state that has voter ID laws — Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas, for instance — and went through voter and driver’s license rolls to determine any fraudulent election practices. 

The MIT study found ID laws are popular among voters of all races, political parties and ideological leanings. Nevertheless, the legislation is almost always implemented by Republicans, it detailed.

Thirty-fives states have some sort of voter ID law on the books, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports, with the 10 strictest belonging to states with Republican-led legislatures. North Carolina’s law is now the 11th.

MIT found three factors have contributed to the implementation of voter ID laws nationwide. These results include during a Republican takeover of a state legislature after years of Democratic Party control, if the state is considered a “battleground state” in the next presidential or midterm Congressional election, and if the state is racially heterogeneous — that is, if it has a significant minority voting bloc that can swing elections.

North Carolina recently picked up a supermajority in the General Assembly and has a Democratic governor. The state has also been hotly contested in the last two presidential elections, and is considered a “swing state” with a large African-American population and an increasing Hispanic population.

Opposite to what Democrats have claimed, MIT’s Election Lab shows states with voter ID laws have experienced an increase in turnout, thanks to a ramp-up in education and mobilization efforts. 

The study also says voter ID laws do not reduce voter fraud cases, as the GOP suggests.

Hopman served as a Democratic voter-protection lead in New Hanover County for two years and said she has seen how the local board of elections has worked to guarantee election security.

Regardless of the law’s implementation, the county Democratic Party has already taken steps to work within the legislation by starting public education initiatives, hosting canvasses throughout the county and calling voters to inform them of the change. 

Each canvasser is passing out wallet-sized cards with information about the new law. The party is also working with Sokoto House and the NAACP to make sure voters can obtain necessary identification prior to November’s municipal elections.

Port City Daily asked Carr how the Republican Party was informing its voters of the new law, but the question went unanswered. 

Carr did write the party is happy the Supreme Court corrected what he considers an egregious error.

“It wasn’t that long ago when Democrat-controlled states instituted poll taxes and literacy tests to suppress the will of the people,” Carr said. ”Today the Democrat Party continues to look for ways to undermine the integrity of our election system. Despite their efforts, the people of North Carolina chose to replace Democrat judicial activists with fair-minded judges to rule on matters such as this. Reasonable people still prefer to live under a system of self government where every legal vote matters.”

How the law was enacted in 2023

The requirement for a voter ID has been debated among the two parties in the General Assembly for six years now.

During the midterm elections in November of 2018, state voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring all who cast a ballot to show photo identification. The General Assembly subsequently passed Senate Bill 824, which would have put the amendment in place.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but it was overridden by then-majority led Republican chambers.

In December of 2018, a legal challenge was made in Wake County Superior Court in Raleigh by the Southern Coalition of Justice. The nonprofit claimed the legislation violated several provisions of the state constitution, especially the state’s equal protection clause

Plaintiffs claimed the General Assembly passed the voter ID law with discriminatory intent. They also said the regulation erected unnecessary barriers to voting and created two separate classes of voters — African-Americans and white people — in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In September of 2021, a three-judge panel from Wake County issued a permanent injunction blocking the law. State Republicans then took it to the state Court of Appeals, but the plaintiffs asked the state Supreme Court hear the case to avoid further delays.

On Dec. 16, 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court justices, in a 4-3 ruling, upheld the lower court’s ruling, saying the legislation was passed with “impermissible” racially discriminatory intent “and “bears more heavily on one race than another, namely African-American voters.” The court also admitted the state has a long history of racial discrimination and voter suppression based on race.

Two months ago, the state Supreme Court, armed with two new conservative justices, reversed the previous ruling in Holmes v. Moore. In the April 28 decision, the court restored Senate Bill 824, concluding the initial law does not have a prejudicial impact on minority voters and was not enacted by lawmakers with racial malice.

“Without question, it is an attempt to make voting more difficult,” Hopman said. “Do I think it is a blatant partisan attack on democracy itself? Undoubtedly. Do I think it is a racist Jim-Crow-style poll tax, which I do not say lightly, disguised as a safety measure? Sure.”

Hopman said state Republicans have been attempting to disenfranchise voters, and discourage them from the electoral process for years through voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, curtailing early voting hours and absentee voting, and eliminating polling sites in minority areas.

There are provisions in the new legislation that allows voters to cast ballots without proper identification, by submitting an ID Exception Form. This form can be used in cases such as failing to obtain ID through lack of transportation or a birth certificate, disability or illness, work-related reasons, natural disasters and family responsibilities.

Free voter IDs will be available at the DMV and board of elections office now through Election Day, Nov. 7.

“There are plenty of ways to vote despite this new law, and it will galvanize our voters to turn out just like the dangerous abortion ban has,” Hopman said. “We are happy to help anyone, regardless of political affiliation, to obtain an ID to vote.”

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