I recently wrote a piece for Politics NC that was mostly just to bring awareness to the fact that the Legislature will reconvene for a special session on Tuesday, November 27th. As many NC politicos have noted, that will be the last time the current iteration of the general assembly meets before new members are sworn in for the 2019 session. Although the details for the meeting are unclear as of now, we do know for sure that they will take up the amendments that passed in the recent election.
One of the biggest qualms I and others had – and continue to have – with the amendments is their vagueness. As Gerry Cohen has pointed out, almost all prior ballot amendments put to the voters included implementing legislation — that is, the way in which the measure would be enacted once it became law. In the case of voter ID, the most contentious amendment, voters knew only that which was written on the ballot. The controversial amendment was devoid of substance. We don’t know what forms will be accepted; our only source of guidance is the previous version that failed to pass constitutional muster. Via NC Policy Watch, the accepted forms of ID in that version were:
- NC driver’s licenses, learner’s permits or provisional licenses,
- NC special identification cards for non-drivers,
- US passports,
- US military ID or Veterans ID cards,
- Enrollment cards from a federally or state recognized tribe, and
- Out-of-state driver’s licenses, but only for 90 days after the voter registered in North Carolina.
As NCPW notes: Neither student ID’s, workplace ID’s, public benefit ID’s nor most expired ID’s were deemed adequate, except in limited circumstances.
The Budget and Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center, produced a report this September outlining the costs and consequences of Voter ID. A typical response that I see, personally, to Voter ID is that most people take for granted that everyone else has an ID. The truth couldn’t be further from that — as BTC writes:
Estimates from 2015 of the number of North Carolina registered voters who do not have a Division of Motor Vehicles identification find that 218,733 people could be affected by a change to the state Constitution that requires photo identification in order to vote.
Furthermore, the effects are not borne equally across the board:
While the percent of registered voters statewide who are Black is 22 percent, 36 percent of voters without identification are Black. Women represent 54 percent of registered voters and 57 percent of those without identification.
Simply put, the legislature seems like they skirt the optics of targeting minority voters in favor of targeting democrats, but in the south, those two are immutable. A large majority of African-American voters in the south are Democrats; targeting Democrats here almost guarantees you’re targeting African-Americans.
Another response you see often is that people should just get an ID. You need one for alcohol, or cigarettes, right? Surely you need one to vote. But the right to drink beer or smoke tobacco isn’t enshrined in the constitution — it isn’t a fundamental right guaranteed to citizens. Voting is. The fact of the matter is, as long as acquiring and maintaining a photo ID has some cost, even if it seems insignificant to many of us, it prevents some people from exercising that right to vote. Again quoting the BTC, with an estimate of $115 for acquiring an ID, all factors considered:
For a family of four with poverty-level income, $115 would represent the loss of nearly one quarter of their weekly income, forcing difficult decisions between food, utility bills and child care expenses and potentially disrupting their annual budget with higher borrowing costs or unpaid bills. A minimum wage worker in North Carolina would have to work 15 hours to cover the cost of the identification.
Certainly they could pay that, and get an ID, but in the grand scheme of things, if you’re just scraping by, voting probably isn’t the top concern in your life. The DMV in North Carolina is already understaffed, and elections are expensive and difficult to conduct in some of our rural counties. Individually, these factors may seem insignificant. Taken altogether, they constitute a clear effort to make voting more difficult.
I think the argument around Voter ID has been more about messaging than substance. It makes sense, as an abstract concept, but once you dig into the details, it falls apart. There are certainly ways the state could go about ensuring electoral integrity, but that would cost money. The austere policies of this general assembly, at least for the next month, would not possibly consider spending more of its own money (your tax dollars) to secure our elections. Voter ID, in its likely form, will transfer that cost down to the poorest among us. If the state were serious about election integrity and not just trying to disenfranchise people in a roundabout way, they would produce an ID for voters to use at the time of registration. Everybody has to register to vote, and prove who they are then, so why not just make them an ID to vote with for free? Problem solved.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.