Tuesday, June 25, 2024

State BOE tweaks rules for voter ID law after public input

For over two weeks, the state board of elections held a public hearing to allow voters a chance to give feedback in order to help county authorities better handle the upcoming municipal elections in November. (Port City Daily/File)

Once the North Carolina Supreme Court reinstated voter ID requirements in the state, citizens naturally had questions as to how the statute would be implemented.

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

For over two weeks, the state board of elections held a public hearing to allow voters a chance to give feedback in order to help county authorities better handle the upcoming municipal elections in November.

The people let their voices be heard. Twelve hundred North Carolina residents commented in the online portal, with another 80 sending emails and 20 more attending a live hearing on the state’s photo ID law. 

Acceptable forms of ID under the new law include an unexpired North Carolina driver’s license, United States passport, state voter identification card and a local or state government-issued ID card.

Locally, Mel Foels from Leland showed his support; the General Assembly passed the law back in 2018, yet after more than five years of legal battles, the legislation didn’t go into effect until this May. Foels said he had voted in several states without using an ID and saw the need for the process, claiming he witnessed someone vote in two separate locations in an election.

“These are just a few reasons why we need to continue to strengthen the legitimacy of the vote,” Foels wrote. “I want my vote to count! One person — ONE VOTE!”

William Schuyler III is a poll worker from Camden with 20 years of experience. He emailed the state board that the new rules will lead to endless challenges by poll watchers that will slow down the process.

“Can the poll worker physically handle the ID presented? If a voter is reluctant to allow a closer look at the ID, what is the alternative?” Schuyler III wrote. “When a driver’s license is presented and reasonable resemblance is in question, the address does not match the record, and the expiration date is more than a year old, can an individual complete a provisional ballot?”

Cheryl Williams of Mars Hill moved to North Carolina from Oregon and said regardless of the merits of the voter ID legislation, or the absence of substantiated voter fraud, residents need to be educated of the regulation. What concerned her the most were the requirements to have a photo ID with absentee ballots and potential security risks attached with them.

“The proposed rule does not include information on how the copies of voters’ IDs will be handled and stored by county elections staff,” Williams wrote. “The information contained on those IDs can expose absentee voters to serious breaches of privacy and potential identity theft. There is no information in the proposed rule about whether state elections officials consider the voter ID photocopy that is sent with absentee ballots.” 

Their suggestions were parlayed into new ideas at the state BOE’s monthly meeting June 26 in Raleigh. The board met and voted on devising rules needed to implement the voter ID law. The measures will be sent to the BOE Rules Review Committee, which has until July 20 to approve or reject the board’s recommendations.

For in-person voters, the board made clarifications to account for additional common-name variations. It also defined that wearing a face mask at the polling station is not an automatic deterrent from voting and that provisional options will be offered due to religious objections to being photographed.

Voters were concerned that poll watchers from both parties could delay the voting process by holding all ballot challenges until the polls closed, in turn leading to long lines at the polls. The board decided challenges would be held immediately.

“There was worry that one could interpret this as holding all your challenges to the end of the day, but obviously the voter is going to be at that moment, so the challenge can be heard,” board member Stacy Eggers said.

One-stop officials will now be allowed to serve as election judges for the purposes of hearing challenges. According to the state board’s website, election workers will be trained to know “appearances may change over time.” If the election worker does not believe the photo reasonably resembles the voter, the person will still be allowed to vote, unless the three assigned election judges unanimously agree the photo does not bear that resemblance.

Absentee voters will have to cast ballots using a packet. Inside that packet are three envelopes with a return slot to put the ballot in and another to ensure security for a photocopy of the voter’s ID, or to include an ID Exception Form explaining why one does not have an ID.

The voter has to prove a “reasonable impediment” to showing a photo ID and must provide a reason by selecting from the following choices on the form:

  • Lack of transportation
  • Disability or illness
  • Lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain ID
  • Work schedule
  • Family responsibilities
  • Lost or stolen photo ID
  • Photo ID applied for but not yet received
  • (For mail voters only) Unable to attach a copy of photo ID
  • Other reasonable impediment (if selected, the voter must write the reason on the form)
  • The voter has a religious objection to being photographed, or the voter was a victim of a natural disaster within 100 days before Election Day.

Public input led to the state board to suggest revisiting the way county boards notify absentee voters of deficiencies with a photocopy ID. Voters were concerned their identifications would not be secure and it would become part of the public record once they were photocopied and mailed out; the board assured that would not be the case.

Also clarified were procedures for voters to bring their physical ID once notified by county boards of deficiencies in the photocopy for the ballot to be counted, either by curing, where a voter can come to their nearest polling place to fix the mistake. Or the voter can retain an ID exception form..

During debate on the rules, board member Kevin Lewis said voter ID is a very complex issue that might not be answered with a simple set of rules, but the board will try to.

“Speaking generically here, the purpose of this voter ID provision is to make sure they are the person they say they are,” Lewis said. “It is not meant to exclude anyone, and we want to provide procedures to make sure anyone who is who they say they are can have their vote counted.” 

Also at the June 26 meeting, the state board listened to a pair of considerations from the state Republican Party to designate the chair of each party to have a pair of observers at each poll location. Those poll watchers are to be relieved every 4 hours.

Board member Siobhan Miller said the rule is currently in place at the county board level but needed to be implemented in at-large districts statewide.

“It’s truer to the original intent of what at-large observers are supposed to be, which have the flexibility to go to polling places which have problems,” she said.

State Republicans asked for the right to an additional 10 observers at any polling place in any county and up to 100 poll watchers in the state during an election. 

The board unanimously approved the measure. 

The state board also addressed the Republicans’ question of the mailing of absentee ballots. Currently, they have to be received three days after Election Day, but if that day falls on a holiday, that issue has never been addressed.

It was suggested that should a ballot deadline fall on a holiday or a weekend, it should be extended to the next possible business day after Veterans’ Day. However, Eggers said that weekend is generally the first one most poll workers get after the election.

“I think it breaks service and morale to the health of our election workers,” he said.

Eggers made a motion to decline the request, which was seconded. The motion to decline state Republicans’ request was granted.

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

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