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Parties prep for voter ID requirements

New voter ID requirements are now in effect. File photo New voter ID requirements are now in effect. File photo

The issue of requiring voters to present identification at the polls before casting a ballot has been contentious in North Carolina — with competing claims that it would disproportionately affect minorities and crack down on nearly non-existent voter fraud in the state — but like it or not, it’s now the law of the land, and now voters of all political persuasions need to do their homework to ensure they’re not left without a voice. 

Just last year, verdicts were handed down in one of the most egregious cases of voter fraud since the 1986 Project Westvote vote-buying scandal, which involved 41 people.

McRae Dowless, a Republican operative from Bladen County, was accused of running a voter fraud ring in 2018 but passed away  before he could be tried on at least a dozen state criminal counts. Seven other defendants involved in Dowless’ scheme were convicted of a total of 13 felonies tied to the fraudulent use of absentee ballots.

According to the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation , there have been 39 cases of voter fraud dating back to 2012, but none nearly as expansive or organized as Dowless’ plot.

From 2012 through 2022, North Carolinians cast more than 14.5 million votes in presidential elections alone, not counting off-year congressional or municipal elections.

In the same 2018 contest where Dowless’ accomplices were running their scam which resulted in the North Carolina State Board of Elections ordering a new election in the Ninth Congressional District, voters went to the polls to decide  on a formal voter ID requirement in a statewide referendum.

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The results were clear — 55.5% of North Carolinians favored the ID requirement, compared to 44.51% who did not. Only 18 of the state’s 100 counties — including Buncombe — saw a majority against  voter ID.

Those results track with both current practices and prevailing public opinion.

There has long been support for such measures across the country, with at least 36 states requiring some form of documentation to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . Of those, at least nine states have what the NCSL calls “strict” photo ID requirements.

A story in Forbes  just eight months after President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election showed 80% support for voter ID laws.

Two months after North Carolina’s 2018 referendum, the Republican-held state Senate passed SB 824 , over Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. Known as Session Law 144, the bill codified voter ID requirements.

A subsequent injunction  prevented the law from taking effect in time for the 2020 elections, and a 2022 state Supreme Court ruling struck down the law , saying it “was enacted with the unconstitutional intent to discriminate against African American voters.” More than 21% of North Carolina residents are African Americans.

A few weeks after the ruling, the court’s 4-3 Democratic majority became a 5-2 Republican majority due to the results of the 2022 General Election.

While some at the time may have thought that the Democrat-majority voter ID ruling demonstrated the growing politicization of the court, what happened next left no doubts on the status of politicization on the court.

Just months after taking office, the new Republican-led Supreme Court announced plans to “re-hear” the case — something the Southern Coalition for Racial Justice  called an “extreme departure from precedent.” 

On April 28, North Carolina Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger’s son, Phil Berger Jr., an associate justice on the state Supreme Court, wrote that the court was confronted with a partisan legislative issue that “spilled out . . . into the courts” and that the court “again stands as a bulwark against that spillover, so that even in the most divisive cases, we reassure the public that our state’s courts follow the law, not the political winds of the day.”

It just so happened that the new Republican-led state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law  was coincidentally aligned with Senate Leader Berger’s interpretation of the law — that SB 824 did not violate protections in the North Carolina Constitution.

Now, for the first time since 2016 — a previous voter ID attempt was in effect for the Primary Elections that year — voters will have to ensure they have proper documentation before casting a ballot.

“We’re trying to educate voters across the state right now about the fact that they have to have their ID,” said Anderson Clayton, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “We’ve just got to out-organize Republicans.”

John Anglin, Republican chair of North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, thinks voters in his party are ready for the stipulations.

“The fact is, the North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the decision and the will of the people. People are big proponents of voter ID. They show up and they want to show ID,” Anglin said. “From my end, it’s common sense. We want to have a lawful election. We’re just informing people that it’s going to be part of the process. We’re just being communicative.”

For many, the most convenient way to satisfy the voter ID requirement  when voting in person is to produce a North Carolina driver’s license, a U.S. Passport or passport card, a free North Carolina state ID , a state or local government ID or an out-of-state driver’s license if the voter has registered within 90 days of the election. Charter school employee IDs are also acceptable.

Some college and university IDs will be acceptable, with a full list expected from the North Carolina State Board of Elections sometime this month . These IDs will remain valid for the purposes of voting through the March 5, 2024, Primary Election and the Nov. 5, 2024, General Election.

Each of the IDs mentioned by the NCSBE must be valid, or must have expired less than one year prior to the election. Voters over age 65 can use an expired ID provided it was valid prior to their 65th birthday.

A new form of ID issued by county elections boards, called the “voter photo” ID, will also satisfy the voter ID requirements, however, these free IDs are not yet available.

Additionally, military and veteran IDs issued by the U.S. government, tribal enrollment cards or IDs issued in relation to public assistance programs are all valid and don’t need an expiration date.

For people who prefer to vote by mail, they’ll have to enclose a photocopy of their ID. Overseas and military voters need not comply with the ID requirement, as federal law outlines specific procedures  for these somewhat rare ballots.

In any event, voters who do not produce an ID when voting in person or by mail can still cast a provisional ballot, which will not be counted until the deficiency is cured.

“I worry about provisional ballots like anyone should, and often times the county boards aren’t going to be actively chasing those folks,” Clayton said. “Republicans are counting on the fact that people are not exactly following up on that.” 

Clayton added that she’s planning on urging county parties to use their voter file to follow up with people who have cast provisional ballots, ensuring they comply with the law so their ballot isn’t discarded.

There are two main ways voters can cure the deficiency and ensure their ballot is counted.

The easiest is to just show up at the county board of elections with a valid ID at least one day before the elections canvass, which in the case of Western North Carolina’s 2023 municipal elections is Nov. 16.

The other way is to fill out what’s called an “ID exception form.” On the form, voters must declare a qualifying reason exempting them from the voter ID requirement.

One of the reasons is if the voter has a religious exemption to being photographed. This applies mainly to certain Amish sects. The second reason is if the voter was the victim of a natural disaster within 100 days of Election Day. The third and perhaps the most problematic reason, is if the voter can demonstrate a “reasonable impediment” to producing a photo ID.

Examples given by the NCSBE of reasonable impediments are vague and broad, including lack of transportation, a lost or stolen ID, a disability or illness or “family responsibilities.” 

Given the novel nature of the voter ID statute, such reasons could become the target of post-election litigation, hanging up final results for an extended period of time in some instances.

Jeff Sellars, chair of the Haywood County Republican Party, and Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

Make your vote count

New voter identification regulations in effect for the upcoming municipal elections — and for the foreseeable future — could prevent you from voting; however, even if you don’t have a driver’s license, it’s still possible with a little legwork. Be sure to visit or locate your county board of elections office by visiting to be sure you’re ready to vote, and to be sure that your vote will be counted.

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