When the General Assembly approved an ID in December that provided for a wide range of acceptable forms of identification to be used for voting, I would not have expected to see the legislature moving quickly to weaken that law just a few months later.
Yet, here we are.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections approved the vast majority of applications from institutions to have their identification cards qualify as voter IDs. However, most UNC system institutions, including UNC-Chapel Hill, failed to meet the legal requirements. Instead, those institutions sought legislative relief.
The General Assembly has obliged with H646, which has already passed the House. While most of the bill can accurately be called technical corrections to better reflect the intentions of the General Assembly when it passed the voter ID law last December, core elements of H646 weaken the verification process for student and government worker IDs, making those IDs less useful in confirming the identity of people presenting them to election officials. Those elements include:
- Effectively eliminating the requirement that the institution confirm the social security number, citizenship status, and birth date of the cardholder without specifying what are other acceptable means of confirming the identity of the cardholder or at least specifically subjecting those alternate means to prior approval by the NC State Board of Elections. (see GS 163A-1145.2.(a)(1)b in H646)
- Eliminating the requirement that ID photos be taken by the institution or is agents or contractors. The new language requires that institutions explain how they will ensure that the photo on the ID is that of an actual student or employee but, once again, the new language does not lay out an acceptable alternative process or specify that the process must get prior approval by the State Board of Elections. (GS 163A-1145.2.(a)(1)a)
- Removes the specific obligations of officials (the “chancellor, president, or registrar” in the case of colleges or universities) to confirm “under penalty of perjury” that legal procedures were followed in issuing IDs that will be used for voting. Instead, the institution only has to generally state that legal procedures “will not knowingly be violated” during the ID application process. This change allows administrators to effectively claim ignorance of violations of legal procedures on their watch by removing any obligation for them to positively confirm that their process is in compliance with the law. (GS 163A-1145.2.(a)(1))
The voter ID law does not have to be scaled back for student and employee IDs to be allowed for voting. While most UNC system schools failed to meet the requirements to have their ID process approved by the State Board of Elections, several colleges and universities did meet them. Those institutions that had their processes approved include Appalachian State University, Duke University, Elizabeth City State University, Meredith College, NC Central University, NC State University, Shaw University, St. Augustine University, and UNC Asheville. That list includes public and private institutions from across the state with diverse student bodies, demonstrating that the requirements of the law are not impossibly onerous for administrators. In one example, Duke University, faced with a student ID application process that did not comply with the voter ID law, created a parallel process for students who do not already have other forms of acceptable ID:
Students who want the card will have to agree to have their identity verified according to the law, will have their picture taken by the University and will receive the card in time to vote in the 2020 election.
The General Assembly should clarify the voter ID law to help institutions that wish to provide IDs for voting, but that can and should be done without weakening the law itself.