North Carolinians highlight struggles getting photo IDs ahead of amendment vote

North Carolinians highlight struggles getting photo IDs ahead of amendment vote

Janice Franklin, of Charlotte, holds her North Carolina photo identification. It took her three months to save enough money to purchase the ID and the bus fare to get it. She didn’t have a photo ID in the March 2016 primary election when they were required to vote and her provisional ballot didn’t end up being counted. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

If Janice Franklin has an extra $10 to spare, she’s not thinking about using it to buy a photo identification so she can vote.

“If I get $10 in my hand, I’m going to get a prescription or food because I probably had to hold off to pay the light bill,” she said.

Franklin is in her 60s; she has a disability, can’t work and lives in Charlotte with her two sons. She doesn’t drive and she doesn’t have reliable transportation.

She’s told her story before – her vote wasn’t counted in the 2016 primary because of voter ID restrictions in North Carolina. She had filled out two forms and used her social security card at the time, but it wasn’t enough.

But she’s still angry, and with a constitutional amendment looming that could require photo IDs to vote all over again, she wants North Carolinians to know that getting one isn’t as easy as it may seem.

“It’s not that we can’t do it,” Franklin said of getting an ID. “It’s that we ain’t going to do it when $10 is all we got.”

Franklin finally has her ID, but it took her three months to save up for it and the bus fare it took to go get it. She’s since voted in more elections, but the experience of voting and then finding out that vote didn’t count has tainted her opinion of the system.

“For a long time, I didn’t vote for that reason,” she said. “I was like, my vote isn’t going to count, why bother? Then this happens, and I’m like, I was right all these years, why bother?”

She used to think the discrimination and oppression she experienced was because she was Black, but over the years, she said, she started realizing it was because she was poor.

“If you don’t make the right amount of money, what you say is fine, what you do is fine, but it counts for nothing,” she said.

Franklin isn’t alone in her struggle. Several people discussed their struggles getting a photo ID in North Carolina with NC Policy Watch over the summer.

The amendment itself is vague and lawmakers have said voters don’t need to know the details of what they’re voting on – they’ll sort that out in a lame-duck special session after the election.

The constitutional amendment is one of six that will appear on this November’s ballot. Many states have laws that require a photo ID to vote, but North Carolina’s effort would enshrine it in the constitution.

Lawmakers’ last attempt at requiring photo IDs at the voting booth was struck down after critics accused the measure of being racist and discriminatory. Enshrining it in the constitution would make it more difficult to challenge in court.

Franklin says it’s easy for people to speculate about poor people’s situations and say what they should be spending their money on, but they don’t understand the realities of living in poverty.

“It comes out that a lot of rich people are living paycheck to paycheck because they’re living beyond their means,” she said. “But for the majority of us, we’re not living beyond our means, we’re just trying to live. Even to this very day, the three of us know, it’s the end of the month – things are tight. We’re going to make it to next month, but you’ve just got to squeeze and squeeze.”

So what’s the solution? Franklin doesn’t have all the answers, but she does think if lawmakers had to walk a mile in her shoes, they might approach creating a voter ID law a little bit differently.

“What I would love to do is just have a one week experiment with all of them, people like [Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett),an influential advocate for voter ID],” she said. “One week, you’re on your own – you’re going to have lights and water, and I’m going to give you $10 for that week. Now let’s see what you do with that and how you use it. Will you go buy your ID so you can vote?”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) also released five videos this week aimed at educating voters about who may be disenfranchised if the photo ID constitutional amendment is passed in November.

SCSJ’s video series highlights the stories of North Carolinians who faced hurdles during the 2016 primary election when that racist and discriminatory photo ID law was in effect.

Some were turned away before voting for not having an ID and some were forced to cast a provisional ballot that was never counted, like Franklin. Others would be unable to vote in future elections if state-issued photo identification were required.

“We know that well over 1,000 people were denied their right to vote in the 2016 primary because of the photo ID requirement,” said Allison Riggs, senior voting rights attorney for SCSJ. “Since the legislature has not yet made it known which IDs they will permit in future elections, voters are being asked to give lawmakers a blank check on determining who would be allowed to vote in future elections and who would be disenfranchised. North Carolinians deserve better than that.”

SCSJ represented plaintiffs who successfully challenged the sweeping voting law passed by the General Assembly in 2013 that included a photo ID requirement.

The organization’s campaign to educate voters about the constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot includes personal stories from:

• Daniel Smith, a Concord resident whose vote was not counted in 2016 because he only had a temporary license when voting in the 2016 primary while he was waiting for his renewed license to be mailed to him;

• Jabari Holmes, a 42-year-old from Wendell who has severe cerebral palsy who has had difficulty obtaining a photo ID and would not be allowed to vote in future elections if photo ID is required;

• Mina Ezikpe, who registered to vote while a student at Duke University and was turned away from the polls without casting a ballot in 2016 for lacking North Carolina issued identification;

• Paul Kearney, a Warrenton resident forced to cast a provisional ballot that was not counted in the 2016 primary for not having his identification with him, despite knowing everyone who was working in the polling place that day; and,

• Jaden Peay, an out-of-state sophomore at North Carolina Central University who volunteers to register other students to vote but only has his South Carolina driver’s license and school identification card, making it unlikely that he would be able to vote in future elections.

SCSJ plans to add more stories to the project between now and Election Day. The videos will be shown at community meetings and town hall discussions about the amendments and will be promoted through sponsored social media posts to inform targeted groups of voters, according to a news release.

“Regardless of the rules put in place to implement a photo identification requirement, the result is going to be that some eligible voters are going to be denied their right to participate in our democracy,” Riggs said. “We hope that sharing these stories will help voters see this proposal for what it really is, the newest chapter in a long line of voter suppression efforts.”

Sharon Hirsch couldn’t get a federal Real ID because her name on her social security card, driver’s license and passport didn’t match after changing her last name when she was married 31 years ago. She worries lawmakers will require Real IDs to vote if a constitutional amendment requiring photo IDs passes in the November election. The photo is of the driver’s license she obtained in lieu of the Real ID, which she can’t get until she updates her documents. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Sharon Hirsch, a registered voter in Durham, spoke to NC Policy Watch about her concerns for what lawmakers will specifically require of voters if the photo ID amendment is passed.

She has never had trouble getting her driver’s license but recently tried to obtain a Real ID and was turned away because of an issue with her maiden name versus her middle name on her official documents.

A Real ID is a document that satisfies federal laws pertaining to security, authentication, and issuance procedures for state driver’s licenses and identity documents. It will soon be required of everyone who travels or goes into federal buildings with identification requirements.

Hirsch is afraid it will also become a requirement to vote in North Carolina.

She was married 31 years ago, but was never informed that her maiden name and middle name were to be used as one and the same. So, her social security card says Sharon S. Hirsch, her driver’s license says Sharon Smith Hirsch and her passport still says Sharon Beth Hirsch (her middle name). When she brought those to the DMV, they couldn’t issue the Real ID because the names on her documents didn’t match.

Getting the documents fixed will take more money and require more time off work, she said.

“I think this is just a unique problem for women of a certain age particularly,” Hirsch added. “When we got married 30 years ago, we didn’t know that Real ID was going to be an issue or that it was going to be difficult to get a driver’s license or your ID because of places where you have your maiden name versus your middle name.”

She said she called U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ office right after being denied the ID and informed them of the problem. She never heard back.

Now she wants North Carolina lawmakers to recognize the issue and how requiring such an ID can be discriminatory for women. She noted that she recognized her privilege in being able to afford to change her documents and having a job flexible enough to take time off.

“For most people, they don’t have that,” Hirsch said. “That’s so unfair. It feels like disenfranchisement. … We should be making it easier to get that ID and make it easier to vote.”

Matthew Tran, a Duke University student, still has a Missouri driver’s license because he moves frequently while in school and his most permanent address is where his family still lives. If a North Carolina-issued ID is required to vote in future elections, he might not be able to participate in the political process – a right that is important to him since his immigrant parents fled their countries for political freedom. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

In a separate issue, Matthew Tran, a Duke University student, reflected on the possibility of not being able to vote in future elections if a state-issued identification was required under a new constitutional amendment.

Tran is from Kansas City, Missouri, and his family still lives there. He considers Durham his home and is politically active – including volunteering for Common Cause NC – but like most college students, he moves frequently. Having a permanent enough address for a North Carolina-issued ID is not likely while he’s in school.

Losing his right to vote because of that scares him.

“I think that would be a shame, because I consider myself to be a part of this community and I have interests here too now,” he said. “I care about what happens here.”

Participating politically in his community and voting in particular is important to Tran on a very personal level.

“I’m first-generation American, and my parents were both immigrants,” he said. “My dad was a refugee from Vietnam and then my mother, she grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China – so both coming to America for a better place.”

He said voting is something that is taken for granted in America, but it’s something his parents weren’t able to do.

“Politics is extremely important … it’s the reason why they left,” he explained. “And when they came to America, they were able to have a voice through voting, through being able to speak freely in what they believed in. And now, to me, I guess that’s very important to me and how I think about what I do.”

Tran said accessibility to voting is something that should be a priority for lawmakers, and he hopes they consider people’s backgrounds and resources as they plow ahead.

“Think about what is the right thing to do when you hold this position of power,” he added. “If you were to lose the majority in 2020, would you like these rules to be set up so Democrats can start disenfranchising rural areas where they’re voting for Republicans? Think about whether you want to expand your influence or work toward building a better and cleaner democracy for North Carolina.”

Former NC Policy Watch intern Rakhia Bass contributed to this report.