RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Any effort by state legislators to make citizens show photo identification before voting by passing legislation that applies to some counties but not others likely would be unconstitutional, according to the top deputy of Attorney General Roy Cooper.
The legal opinion by Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley addresses a potential way that lawmakers could attempt to get around Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of a statewide photo ID bill in June that Republican lawmakers were unable to override in July. They haven't ruled out trying to override her veto again.
Bills that apply to local matters generally can't be vetoed by the governor. Over the past several weeks, commissioners in a few counties — such as Rowan, Davidson, Gaston and Craven — have requested such legislation, although GOP leaders in the General Assembly haven't acted on those requests.
Kelley wrote that placing photo ID requirements on voters in some areas of the state but not others "would raise serious equal protection issues" under both the U.S. and state constitutions. The state constitution mandates "general laws" are enacted for matters that are uniformly applicable statewide. Voting-related laws seem to fall under that category, he wrote.
"It is therefore our opinion that the enactment of local bills requiring photo voter identification in certain counties would likely be held unconstitutional by the courts," Kelley wrote to general counsel Mark Davis in a Nov. 23 letter, which was first reported on by the liberal watchdog group North Carolina Policy Watch.
Kelley also wrote the veto exemption for local bills wouldn't apply if similar local bills approved during a two-year legislative session cover more than half of the state's 100 counties.
Debate on the voter ID issue has been sharply partisan this year, with Republicans arguing the requirement is supported by most voters and would discourage voter fraud in an era when photo IDs are required to enter government buildings and write checks at stores. Democrats say voter ID is unnecessary and current criminal laws combat fraud. They argue the bill would discourage older adults and black residents from voting.
Craven County commissioner Scott Dacey didn't immediately comment on Kelley's opinion, saying he needed more time to review it. His local board voted 5-2 along party lines on Nov. 21 in favor of asking for the General Assembly to pass legislation that would apply to Craven County.
Dacey, a Republican, said Craven commissioners are indifferent as to whether the voter requirement comes through a local or statewide law.
"The bottom line is that no valid vote should be nullified because someone choses to cheat the system and the elected officials serving in Raleigh need to step up and address this issue in a manner consistent with the views of an overwhelming majority of the voters in North Carolina," Dacey wrote in an email.