Republican leaders are determined to pass a voter ID bill this session and they say their resolve is fueled by promises they made to voters during the 2010 election. Unfortunately, these leaders believe that a bad bill is better than no bill and will offer a compromise to HB 351 (Restore Confidence in Government), the voter photo ID bill passed in 2011 and subsequently vetoed by Governor Beverly Perdue. The compromise has not yet been revealed, but the House Republican leadership is unyielding in their determination to search out new language that would meet the approval of at least four Democrats. Four is the magic number, in that the Republicans in the House are four votes short of veto-proof majority.
In order to gain Democratic votes, the new language will have to weaken HB 351 to the point where it would concede the intent of the law and do away with any assurances that voters are proving their identity before voting.
According to interviews with Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), the compromise bill will probably contain some of the same provisions provided in a short-lived 2011 compromise to HB 351. The compromise bill flamed out before HB 351 was passed last year.
The compromise would allow voters to use utility bills, bank statements and voter registration cards as acceptable forms of identification. It would also allow voters who did not have any form of ID to show that their signature matched the signature on their voter registration — whether the signatures matched would be determined by precinct officials.
It is safe to say that anyone who votes for a voter ID bill that includes any of these elements is not a supporter of true voter photo ID.
Ultimately, if passed, the law would be little more than a sham to pacify the majority of voters in this state who want only to improve the integrity of the state’s elections. As bad as this may sound, more troubling is the fact that passage of such a bill would add one more bad law to an election code full of bad law. There are so many bad, weak and poorly written election laws in North Carolina’s election code that often times, in order to comply with one, another must be ignored.
Case in point: the deadline to register to vote is 25 days prior to Election Day, per NCGS 163-82.6(c), that is, unless you want to register at an early voting site. NCGS 163-82.6A(a) allows people to register and vote at a one-stop site starting on the 19th day before Election Day and ending the Saturday before Election Day.
In 1995 the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), perhaps better known as “Motor Voter,” went into effect. The law’s intent was to encourage more accessible voter registration. The law, while giving voters more access to voter registration, also posed serious problems. For the first time, North Carolina voters could register to vote without in-person assistance from an elections official. The legislation’s opponents pointed out that there was no way to know whether a voter registration was submitted by an eligible voter or by an individual or group looking to commit voter fraud.
North Carolina’s legislature at the time offered a solution to this serious concern: They passed legislation which required verification notices be sent to a voter registration applicant to verify the applicant’s residence address (NCGS 163-82.7(c), 163-82.7(c), 163-82.15(b)). It is important to note that these verification notices were neither required nor prohibited by the NVRA, but the North Carolina legislature thought the measure was important enough to include in North Carolina’s election code. This solution to a real security concern was short-lived. It didn’t take long for the State Board of Elections (SBOE) to allow verification mailings to be sent to addresses other than the voters’ actual residence address, including post office boxes and out-of-state addresses. While the General Statutes went unchanged, the SBOE effectively dismantled an important safety measure to guard against voter registration fraud and the only security measure to an extensive new voter registration law.
Enacted in 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was the federal government’s answer to voting equipment problems in the Presidential Election of 2000. HAVA includes only one provision that even resembles an attempt at election security. The Act calls for the verification of voter registration information by requiring voters to include a valid driver’s license number or the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number on the voter registration application. The legislation also required boards of elections to validate the numbers submitted by the voters. Again, this attempt at some measure of identification validation was cut short: North Carolina’s legislature soon offered a way out for those voter’s whose ID numbers did not match with the agencies where they were generated and stored. NCGS 163-166.12 provides that “the failure of identification numbers to match shall not prevent that individual from registering to vote and having that individual’s vote counted.”
And, one more:
After Same Day Registration (SDR), a North Carolina law that allow voters to register and vote at the same time during one-stop voting, was implemented in 2008, the SBOE discovered that the application of the law would not comply with the basic North Carolina voter registration statutes. Because voters were allowed to both register and vote at the same time within the 2-½ weeks leading up to Election Day, thousands of voters who registered and voted at the same time had their verification mailings returned to the board of elections because they did not live where they said they lived when they voted. It was too late though; by the time the cards were returned, the votes had been counted and the Presidential Election had been certified.
In a 2009 report written to the North Carolina General Assembly, the SBOE wrote, “SDR laws need to be revised to provide county boards of elections guidance on processing SDRs that are legally permissible at the time of the registration, but cannot be verified through the mail because the applicant has moved within 30 days of the election.” In its suggestion, SBOE supposed that the voters were “legally permissible,” but North Carolina does not recognize a “legally permissible” voter until their addresses have been verified. The SBOE understood that verification was impossible in the very short time period before the election. Instead of stepping back and saying, “Hey, SDR sounds good in theory, but doesn’t work because its implementation does not allow us to comply with North Carolina election law,” SBOE asked the legislature to re-write the law to make this terrible legislation (SDR) work.
The list of bad and poorly implemented North Carolina election law goes on and on. Adding more because the Governor stands in the way of a good law doesn’t make sense.
Proponents of voter photo ID had high hopes after the historic 2010 election, but this compromise is not what they had in mind. They understand that this legislature is their first hope of true election reform. If the state House wants to make a hit with their constituents, they will attempt to override the veto again and force the opponents of this widely popular bill to vote against voter photo ID again.
A good voter photo ID bill will be a step in the right direction to ensure our vote is protected and the integrity of the voting process is secure in North Carolina – forget the bad law, we can wait for the good law.
North Carolina’s motto is “Esse Quam Videri” – “To Be Rather than to Seem.” Passage of a weakened compromise to the vetoed voter photo ID legislation will turn that phrase around to read: “To Seem Rather than to Be.”