Lessons learned on Voter ID

Lessons learned on Voter ID

- in Law and the Courts

voterID-1213-400Last week’s abrupt turnabout in the General Assembly on Voter ID surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as attorneys in the lawsuits set for trial this summer.

The changes, which include provisions allowing voters lacking photo ID to cast a provisional ballot once they’ve signed a sworn statement indicating that they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting such an ID, surfaced at the last minute as part of a joint House and Senate compromise to House Bill 836.

The House, while supporting the changes as improvements on an otherwise bad law, decried the lack of process and wondered aloud what happened to bring about such a quick reversal

“Why now,” asked Rep. Mickey Michaux. “This could have been done two years ago.”

And several of the Republican party faithful ridiculed their own leaders in the General Assembly for caving on one of the signature provisions of their 2013 voting changes even before those provisions went into effect.

“North Carolina is the first state to lose a voter photo ID case and the Republicans in the state legislature were the deciding factor,” the conservative Civitas Institute said in a statement.

But lawmakers had heard plenty from voters in public hearings on voter ID held around the state in June, Rep. David Lewis said in support of the changes, and wanted to ensure that every voter in the state who needed an ID could get one.

What they learned from those hearings echoed much of what the parties challenging the voting law changes in court have already alleged.

That’s particularly so with respect to the “free” identification card supposedly offered by the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

In sworn statements submitted in the state voter ID case, a number a voters recounted continued difficulties in getting the ID needed even for the free card, often at a significant cost, reported that the DMV was charging for the cards and said that agents there gave them incorrect or inconsistent information.

Changes to photo ID

Pursuant to the election law changes adopted in 2013 and effective in 2016, voters at the polls must present a photo ID before casting a ballot.

Acceptable IDs include a free identification card voters can obtain at Division of Motor Vehicle offices throughout the state. To get that, residents still need to present two forms of identification, proof of residency and proof of a valid Social Security Number.

Voters appearing at the polls without any photo ID can still cast a provisional ballot, but that would be counted only if they then appeared at the county board with acceptable ID or other documents proving their identity, or completed an affidavit attesting to a sincerely held religious belief that prevented them from having the necessary ID.

The changes made last week would allow voters without a photo ID to swear to some reasonable impediment in getting that ID, provide proof of residency and a valid Social Security number, and then cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted with nothing further required.

The not-so-free voter ID

What state lawmakers likely learned from developments in the pending lawsuits and from experiences of state residents voiced at the public hearings is this: For many voters, the road to an acceptable photo ID proved to be a complicated and costly one and, in some cases, a dead-end.

The free photo ID promised in 2013 turned out to be not so free and in many cases nearly impossible to get. And the state DMV, charged with processing the free IDs, appeared ill-equipped and uninformed about what the law required.

Many of the state’s seniors, proud of their decades of regular and unencumbered voting, had insult upon injury heaped upon them when they tried to get the free ID from the Division of Motor vehicles.

Sally Robare’s experience, detailed here by UNC School of Law professor Gene Nichol, was not unique.

The 65-year-old Robare, who moved here four years ago from New York and lives in the Lions Senior Center in Cleveland County, doesn’t drive anymore, so she had to wait until she could find a ride to the DMV.

Once there, she learned that she couldn’t use her New York license to get the “free” ID because it had expired. She’d have to get a new North Carolina license, for which she’d need her birth certificate, she later learned. That was a problem because she was adopted and her records in New York were sealed. She persisted, applying for one there and paying the $72 fee.

“I never dreamed it would be so hard just to get to vote like every other American, but I guess that’s the way people want it here,” she told Nichol.

Alberta Currie, on of the plaintiffs in the state voter ID case, ran into similar roadblocks.

Currie, now 80, has voted regularly since she was 21. She lacks any of the acceptable forms of photo ID and has spent more than $100 trying to get a birth certificate so that she can get the “free” ID to vote in 2016.

So did 85-year-old Ethelene Douglas, whose road to a “free” voter ID included four visits to DMV with her niece, two trips to South Carolina in search of a birth certificate or other accepted records and an $86 request for a U.S. Census Report to document her age.

Others received inconsistent and incorrect information from the DMV when trying to get the ID.

Twenty-five year old Cherisse Dill went to a driver’s license office in Hendersonville to register to vote but was told, incorrectly, that she needed a North Carolina photo ID for that.

Dill was later able to register without the photo ID, and then went to the DMV in Hendersonville to get the free voter photo ID, where she learned that it cost $10. Only a homeless person with a letter from a homeless shelter could get the ID for free, the agent told her.

And students, whose college IDs are not an acceptable form of photo ID for voting in North Carolina, ran into difficulties over their in-state addresses and out-of-state licenses.

To get the free ID, DMV requires a student with an out-of-state license to turn that license in and get a North Carolina license first. To get that license, though, they need proof on North Carolina car insurance.

Evelyn Bradley, a Salem College student who lived in Georgia before, is one example. DMV told Bradley that she had two choices: give up her Georgia license and either get one from North Carolina, at a cost of $32, or pay $10 for the voting ID card. She could do neither, since she had no car and wouldn’t have state car insurance needed for the driver’s license and needed the Georgia license to drive as part of her job duties.

Bradley also could not get the free ID from DMV because, according to agents, her address here for the past four years was a student address.