It’s 7pm on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 — and there’s just half an hour left until the polls close. You’ve just moved here from New York, where they don’t have early voting like they do here in North Carolina — so, naturally you’ve waited ’til the last day to vote.
You hop in your Prius and rush off down the street to the library with just minutes to spare. Campaign signs in various combinations of red, white, and blue are everywhere.
You park the car and, relieved, get in the line. Some kid working the crowd hands you a flyer. There’s an old guy standing behind you wearing a brown plaid shirt. His wife is saying something to him but he doesn’t seem to be listening. He sizes you up and tells you that he cast his first vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt back in 1932 — and he’s voted in every election since. You smile politely, and to pass the time, do the math in your head. The guy’s gotta be in his nineties.
“Yes, yes. I have it right here!” the old man snaps at his wife. He waves his VA identifcation card. “And I haven’t voted Democrat since JFK!” he smiles, knowingly, and apparently at you.
Instinctively, you check your pockets. Nothing. You realize, in all the excitement, that you left your wallet back home on the kitchen counter. Your drivers license is in your wallet. You don’t have your Photo ID on you. What now? Who’s going to believe that you’re an eligible voter? Especially with your funny accent?
The old man’s wife, sensing your anxiety, pats you gently on the arm and says reassuringly, “It’s alright, young man. A change was made recently to our election reforms regarding photo identification when you show up to vote at the polls.” The line moves ahead a little.
“Ronald Reagan. Now he was great president!” the old man chimes in.
“Originally, the law required that a voter present a current and valid state-issued Photo ID beginning in the 2016 election cycle,” the old lady continues. “Of course, my husband and I have IDs, and they’re available free from the Department of Motor Vehicles, but since then a concern arose that an eligible voter could arrive at the polls and have a perfectly good reason for not having the ID at that time — much like you, young man. For example, a voter could unwittingly be without Photo ID if it were lost or stolen and might be unable to have the ID restored in time to vote. There is no real reason someone should not be able to cast a vote that day and have it counted on election day.”
The General Assembly agreed and corrected this gap in the law by adding an exception to account for the eventuality like the one described above. The legislature, in a reasonable fashion, simply adjusted the law. The minor change does not undermine the original intent behind the Photo ID requirement; the board must still verify that the person is qualified to vote: that is, the voter must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old, and a resident in their North Carolina precinct for at least 30 days.
Under the rules that existed prior to the election reforms of 2013, a voter only had to give the poll worker their name and address in order to vote in person and then sign a sheet attesting that the information was correct (called an “Authorization to Vote”). That was all you needed.
House Bill 836, which passed unanimously (less a few votes) in both the House and Senate, allows a voter to declare (in a sworn affidavit, co-signed by a public official and under penalty of perjury — yikes!) that they have a “reasonable impediment” to possessing current and valid photo identification. They will then be given a provisional ballot to cast their vote. A provisional ballot allows a voter to cast a vote during the election period, but the ballot is not officially counted until the local Board of Elections can verify a person’s identity.
In filling out the affidavit, the voter must present some other form of identification — either a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document, to include the voter’s Social Security Number and date of birth. In other words, the elections board must be given identifying information about the voter that can be traced to the qualified voter when attempting to include the provisional ballot in the final election results during the board of elections county canvass period.
Any sworn affidavit submitted by a voter as a condition of voting on a provisional ballot can be challenged by any registered voter of the county by submitting clear and convincing evidence in writing challenging the voter’s claim of “reasonable impediment.” A hearing would be held by the board in that case, where the voter can face his accuser with counter-evidence.
These are some possible causes for not having Photo ID that should appear on the affidavit:
- Lack of transportation;
- Disability or illness;
- Lack of birth certificate or other documents needed to obtain Photo ID;
- Work schedule;
- Family responsibilities;
- Lost or stolen photo identification;
- Photo identification applied for but not received in time;
- Other reasonable impediment (if the voter checks the “other reasonable impediment” box, a further brief written identification of the reasonable impediment shall be required)
Otherwise, a voter must comply with the voter ID law implemented in 2013’s House Bill 589 (The Voter Information Verification Act, or “VIVA”), which required that the voter present some form of state-issued Photo ID when voting in person.
“South Carolina has a Photo ID requirement and has a comparable provision in its election laws to allow options for people in hardship cases to positively identify themselves at the polls and cast a provisional ballot,” said John Hood of the John Locke Foundation. “The South Carolina law has been upheld by the court. When they ran an election under this system in South Carolina, a trivial number of people used the exemption.”
The voter ID changes could affect a lawsuit underway challenging the constitutionality of the recent election reforms and may even invalidate some key arguments made by the plaintiffs. This could ultimately lead to dismissal of the case.
Pressly M. Millen, an attorney representing individuals suing in state court, said the “landscape has changed tremendously” with the changes. The new law “has eliminated a number of the things — and some of the most egregious — that we’re complaining about,” Millen said.1
Presenting an acceptable government-issued Photo ID will be required to vote starting in 2016. Acceptable forms of ID will include:
- North Carolina driver’s license, learner’s permit or provisional license;
- Special identification card issued by the DMV for non-drivers;
- United States passport;
- Military ID or veterans ID card;
- Out-of-state driver’s license (only valid for 90 days after registering to vote in North Carolina; or
- Tribal enrollment card issued by a North Carolina or federally-recognized Indian tribe.
Certain types of ID cards won’t be acceptable for voting. They include:
- Student IDs (from either public or private universities);
- Government employee IDs;
- Membership cards;
- Grocery store discount cards; or
- Expired IDs (not including expired military or veterans IDs, or any otherwise acceptable ID of senior voters over the age of 70, provided the ID was not expired as of their 70th birthday.)
No-fee voter ID cards are available at all drivers license locations for residents who have no other valid form of identification required by VIVA election reform of 2013. Applicants will need to present documents that verify their age and identity, their residency address in North Carolina, and provide a valid Social Security Number. Document requirements for the card are available on the DMV website.2
According to the State Board of Elections, there were 6,339,909 registered voters as of June 27, 2015. Since the new Photo ID requirement for 2016 was first put in place, the DMV has handed out 1,019 of free voter ID cards across the entire state. That’s just 0.016% of registered voters who have requested and received free voter ID in the state.
House Bill 836 also allows certain drivers licenses and non-operators Photo ID cards issued by the DMV to be expired for up to four years prior to being presented for voting.
The bill was signed into law on June 22, 2015 and became effective immediately.
Did you know that under Governor McCrory, the Department of Motor Vehicles now has a mobile unit where registered voters without acceptable photo identification for the purposes of voting in 2016 can apply for a free DMV ID card? Well it does! Here’s the schedule.
- Asheville Citizen-Times (AP), “Changes to NC voter ID rankle some, but could preserve law”
- Fayetteville Observer, “North Carolina DMV issues 1,000 no-fee voter ID cards ahead of 2016“