The state Senate gave final approval Friday to a constitutional amendment that would require North Carolina voters to present photo ID at the polls. The amendment question will appear on the ballot in November.
The votes in the House and the Senate were along party-lines, carried by the Republican supermajority.
Democratic lawmakers in both chambers stressed evidence doesn’t support the idea that voter fraud is enough of a problem to necessitate photo ID, which would create another hurdle for those who want to vote and disenfranchise low income and minority voters who disproportionately lack a qualifying ID.
Last year the State Board of Elections released the results of an extensive audit of the 2016 election. The audit did turn up problems.
Out of the nearly 4.8 million votes cast, the report found only one would probably have been prevented with a voter ID law.
Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) said the push for voter ID is not about the integrity of elections.
“It’s about an amendment that disproportionately impacts African-Americans, Hispanics, seniors, the disabled and young voters,” Chaudhuri said.
But Republican lawmakers said requiring ID makes sense, even if there is no evidence that elections are compromised without it.
“Even if there were no voter fraud — and I don’t believe that that is the case — most of us lock our door every night even though there’s no crime,” said Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort).
Gov. Roy Cooper does not have veto authority over constitutional amendments.
Civil liberties groups were quick to condemn the General Assembly’s passage of the amendment.
“There is scant evidence of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina,” said Sarah Gillooly, driector of Political Advocacy and Strategy for the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement. “But there is plenty of evidence that voter ID will limit access to voting for some of the state’s most marginalized voters, including people of color, rural and low-income voters, the elderly, and people with disabilities, all of whom disproportionately lack and face challenges to getting a photo ID.”
“North Carolina lawmakers have an ugly track record of enacting unnecessary and discriminatory voting restrictions,” Gillooly said. “And this time they are passing the buck to voters by asking them to permanently change our state’s constitution in a way that will place hurdles in front of law-abiding North Carolinians, silence people’s voices, and undermine a fundamental right. The General Assembly shouldn’t be given a blank check to turn back the clock on voting rights.”
Tomas Lopez, executive director of voting rights group Democracy North Carolina, agreed.
“The General Assembly says its proposal is mainstream, but only Mississippi and Missouri have voter ID requirements in their constitutions,” Lopez said in a statement. “And neither goes as far as this.”
“This amendment would compromise access to the vote and make North Carolina an extreme outlier,” Lopez said. “And while lawmakers promise to fill in the details later about what ‘photo ID’ means under this proposal, we should remember that their last ID law was thrown out in court.”
In 2013 the General Assembly passed House Bill 589, which made massive changes to voting laws in the state — among them requiring voter ID.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, finding it targeted minority voters with almost “surgical precision,” and found cures for problems that didn’t exist.
Republican lawmakers hold that, had the U.S. Supreme Court taken up the case, it would have upheld the law. They blame the court declining to do so on Cooper and N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, both Democrats, declining to defend the law when they were elected last year.