LUMBERTON — The chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party says the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s move to ask the state’s voters if a photo identification should be required of people casting votes in person is a numbers game that does more harm than good.
“I think they are trying to continue to get the (voter) numbers in their favor,” said Edward Henderson, who also is the mayor of Red Springs.
State lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require photo IDs to vote in person. The House voted earlier this week to submit the referendum to voters in November. It isn’t subject to the veto stamp of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a strong voter ID opponent.
“They’ve tried other ways to make this become law, and they have failed,” Henderson said.
The Republicans have never proven any voter fraud that mandating a photo ID will correct, he said.
“That’s probably what they should have done in the first place, let the public decide,” Henderson said.
Mandatory voter identification will negatively affect elderly people who have trouble getting around and can’t easily obtain a photo identification, he said. It also will negatively affect poor people.
“They might not have the ability to get there, and when they get there they may not have the means to pay for the ID,” Henderson said.
The Republicans are searching for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, he said.
“In my opinion, it’s not broke and they’re trying to fix something that’s not broke,” Henderson said.
A federal appeals court struck down several state voting restrictions approved by the legislature in 2013, which included a photo ID requirement, saying the provisions targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision” and were enacted with “racially discriminatory intent.”
Republicans still chafe under those rulings, and argue the ID rule aims to bolster the public’s confidence in elections. Although data show voter impersonation charges and convictions are minimal or almost non-existent, Republicans cite anecdotes from constituents who say they have seen fraud and are worried that someone could vote in their place with ease under current law.
“This bill is all designed about voter integrity,” House Speaker Tim Moore of Cleveland County, a chief sponsor of the voter ID amendment.
While more than 30 states require some form of identification to vote, only Mississippi and Missouri have constitutional provisions addressing photo ID. Arkansas will have a similar proposed constitutional amendment on ballots this fall.
The language of North Carolina’s referendum doesn’t provide many details. The amendment says lawmakers could pass exceptions for people who lack IDs. Legislators would have to approve a law implementing the amendment if a majority of voters back it.
Those uncertainties and recent history worry Democratic legislators and their allies. They accuse Republicans of again trying to discourage voting by black residents and other groups, who overwhelmingly side with Democrats.
Democratic Sen. Gladys Robinson of Guilford County, who is black, warned Republicans during Senate debate this week, “This voter ID bill says ‘suppress the right to vote,’ and you should not want to be remembered that way.”
Moore said he anticipated the voter ID method would mirror those from other states that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld. Critics still worry Republicans will attempt to stick largely to the 2013 law that required one of eight forms of ID. College identification cards for students weren’t among them.
Some expired IDs were allowed, and older people and those with disabilities could get state cards for free. There was a voter education effort and lawmakers updated the rules before the mandate was carried out in the 2016 primaries so people who had a hardship to obtain an ID could still vote if they signed a form.
Ballots cast in March 2016 by about 1,400 people who lacked an acceptable photo ID were not counted, according to election advocacy group Democracy North Carolina. Still, well over 2 million voters showed a qualifying ID for that election.
“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,” Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Tomas Lopez said in a release Friday.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year let stand the North ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized that decision wasn’t based on how the justices viewed the substance of the law.
Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County noted that lawmakers this week restored early voting on the final Saturday before Election Day, after previously eliminating it this month. He said that shows willingness to address critics’ concerns about voter ID. That Saturday has been disproportionately used by black residents.
“We took a step that folks hopefully will see as an indication that we have no discriminatory intent,” Berger told reporters.
The voter ID amendment is one of six approved for ballots this week by Republicans, who are trying to retain their veto-proof majorities this fall against energized Democrats. The voter ID amendment and others are likely to bring out conservative voters.
If voters approve the amendments, the GOP could implement them in a lame-duck session the legislature plans for late November.