A constitutional amendment requiring photo ID to vote moved one step closer to the ballot Monday, getting tentative approval by the state House after a long and caustic debate.
House members voted 74-44 on the amendment Monday, approving the bill along party lines. A third reading will be needed Tuesday, after which it will head to the Senate.
Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake) accused the Republican majority of trying to resurrect the “monster” voting law passed in 2013 but shot down by a federal court ruling that found it racially discriminatory.
“What we’re attempting to do tonight is to give this body an excuse – and excuse to go back with the same monster law,” Jackson said.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found that law targeted minority voters with almost “surgical precision,” and found cures for problems that didn’t exist. Now, Jackson said, the General Assembly’s Republican majority wants to put the law on the ballot as a constitutional amendment so they can say it was the people who called for the law.
Because Black voters disproportionately lack state issued ID, critics of amendment say Republican lawmakers are trying to disenfranchise a group of voters who dependably vote Democratic.
But Republican lawmakers dismissed those charges, saying a voter ID law is necessary to prevent voter fraud.
“An overwhelming majority of North Carolinians, regardless of their party affiliation, race or gender believe voter ID is common sense to ensure election integrity,” said Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett).
Last year the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive audit of the 2016 election. The audit did turn up problems.
It found 508 ineligible votes cast – about 87 percent felons who voted without having fully completed their probation or parole. It also found 24 cases of double voting and two cases of voter impersonation – one in person, one by mail.
But of the nearly 4.8 million votes cast, the report found only one would probably have been prevented with a voter ID law.
But Lewis and others insisted the problem is much more widespread, though under-reported. A number of Republican lawmakers shared anecdotes and first-person accounts of having witnessed voter fraud that went unchecked.
“How can you know something is going on if you have no method to detect it?” Lewis said. “It’s reckless to claim a problem doesn’t exist when we haven’t been looking for it.”
A number of Black Democratic lawmakers shared their deep opposition to the amendment as another hurdle to jump in a long history of having overcome obstacles to voting.
Rep. Terry Garrison (D-Vance) said it is important to understand the perspective of those who have faced discrimination and for whom something as seemingly simple as government issued ID is still a barrier to an essential freedom.
“I am a product of a race of people in this state who have experienced wholesale and full scale the absolute essence of discrimination,” Garrison said. “And I am a citizen of the state, just as each and every one of us is. But each one of us has a birthright. And that one birthright is the right to vote. It is the only tool, the only source of power that a citizen in this states has.”
“This attempt to require photo ID for voting may be well intended by some — to prevent fraud,” Garrison said. “I’m not saying there hasn’t been some. Surely there has been. But for certain there are many citizens today who do not have ID. And I know there are many of you who can’t imagine that. It’s unconscionable. How can that be in the 21st century? But it does happen.”
Garrison pointed out the amendment would require photo ID for in-person voting, but not for absentee voting. A larger proportion of white voters use absentee ballots. At the very least, Garrison said, if a photo ID is going to be used to prevent fraud it should be used in all circumstances.
“A rose is a rose by any other name,” Garrison said. “A scheme is a scheme by any other game.”
If approved by the House in its third reading Tuesday and by the Senate, the amendment would appear on the ballot in November. Gov. Roy Cooper has no veto authority on constitutional amendments.
Another constitutional amendment restructuring the state board of elections and transferring its appointments from the governor to legislative leaders is also expected in the House Tuesday.