Last year, after years of litigation, struggle and failure, Republicans in the NCGA were finally successful in implementing voter ID. In lieu of a simple statute, they put onto the ballot a constitutional amendment; let the people decide! The amendment passed and, for better or worse, voter ID became the law of the land.
One sticking point of voter ID has been what forms qualify. Opponents of voter ID – rightly – claim that it is just another hurdle in the path of legitimate voters. Given the scurrilous number of reports that come out annually of actual voter fraud, the fixation on voter ID appears to be more about complicating the franchise than protecting or, God forbid, expanding it.
But a lot of those concerns were supposedly addressed in the most recent iteration of voter ID. Remember, when proposed as an amendment, we knew nothing about how voter ID would be implemented. Typically, constitutional amendments have implementing legislation to actually describe how they would work in practice. Voter ID was one of a few amendments on the ballot last year that dispensed with such petty concerns as how voter ID might actually work. And that lack of foresight has brought voter ID back into the news this week.
Watauga Watch, a liberal blog in the mountains of North Carolina, uncovered this sordid tale. Apparently, student IDs in the UNC system do not currently pass muster; moreover, he alleges that UNC system General Counsel Thomas Shanahan is somehow derelict, withholding or otherwise obfuscating relevant information from the university chancellors, and claiming that all seventeen would not be able to comply with the voter ID law. And all this after Republicans told us in good faith that student IDs would be accepted, yet here we are.
What remains unclear to me, at least, is whom to blame. Shanahan apparently did not distribute the attestation forms that chancellors need to verify their respective forms of ID, claiming that none of the 17 institutions can comply. Those forms are due March 13, and the State Board of Elections is supposed to approve all forms of ID for 2019-20 by March 15. Is Shanahan plain wrong? Did Republicans in the NCGA act in bad faith (imagine?) or, as Rep. David Lewis tweeted, do they plan to correct this?
Whatever the short-term resolution, it needs to come quickly. Legislators would do well to consider a bill introduced by Reps. Hawkins and Russell to push back the deadline, from March 15 to September 15. It’s a reasonable first step in rectifying this issue. If it truly was an oversight, this provides time to hammer out the details over the course of months instead of minutes. UNC System officials should also consider speaking up for their students, sooner than later. The leaders of our proud universities should set an example for students and be proactive instead of procrastinating their work again until it’s too late. UNC alumni know you don’t often get second chances.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.