Voter ID plan must be free of politics
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Members of the N.C. General Assembly will get some legislative exercise to help burn off their Thanksgiving calories this year, returning to Raleigh for a late-November special session that will, among other things, write the rules for the state’s newly enacted constitutional requirement for voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
It will also be the last time for at least the next two years that Republican legislators will enjoy a veto-proof majority that lets them pass any manner of legislation they wish, without concern about whether the governor or their Democratic colleagues agree. That will change in January, when the number of Democratic lawmakers increases and Republican veto overrides will need Democratic votes to succeed.
In past sessions, electoral reform legislation has faced a barrage of successful legal challenges that were sustained all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. We’re hoping that regardless of that last bit of freedom to indulge in mischief, the legislative majority will create a voter ID administrative framework that will encourage and assist all eligible voters to register, obtain the necessary identification then vote.
While there is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this state — and in fact, little evidence of it even in small doses — in this era of identity theft and sophisticated cheating schemes, voter ID is necessary preventive medicine. But any voter ID system needs to be impeccably fair and designed to reach out to groups of people who may not have the necessary identification.
As our lawmakers prepare to put wheels on the vehicle the voters just approved, their guiding principle must be that no North Carolina resident who is otherwise eligible to vote should be denied the right to cast a ballot. The rules created this month will determine whether or not that happens.
A great deal of the measure’s success depends on what the law prescribes when a voter goes to a polling place and lacks the proper form of identification. Will poll workers be instructed to send the voter away, or will there be an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot and return to the local board of elections later with documents that provide identification? Even better, will ID-less voters be able to fill out an affidavit and cast a regular vote?
Multiple studies have found that millions of Americans lack a photo ID. Many of them are poor, elderly and minorities. In the 2016 election in Texas, which had a voter ID law, more than 16,000 voters filled out a form indicating they didn’t have the correct ID. They were allowed to vote.
Will North Carolina be prepared for that? And what about those who don’t go to the polls because they don’t have the correct ID and aren’t readily able to get it? How will we deal with that?
The best way to insure a fair and equitable voter ID system is to take politics out of policymaking and create an independent, nonpartisan voter ID commission to draw up the rules and administer the system. It would be a good way to make sure this state’s second try at voter ID doesn’t end up in the courts for years, as the first one did.
Our state is widely recognized for some of the most discriminatory and biased electoral systems in the nation, including its past attempts at electoral reform and our outrageously biased gerrymandering.
Wouldn’t it be a welcome change to gain national recognition for fair and unbiased voting regulations? Our lawmakers will have the opportunity this month to take that road less traveled. We hope they choose it.
The News & Record of Greensboro