Last week, Civitas President Donald Bryson participated in a debate on the merits of the voter ID constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this fall. The debate was the second of the four-part Hometown Debate Series hosted by the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership.
Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), House Rules Committee Chair and prominent election law leader in the General Assembly, joined Bryson to speak in favor of the proposal. The panel also included Sen. Erica Smith (D-Northampton) and Kareem Crayton, director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who each oppose the amendment.
Bryson pointed out that North Carolina voters consistently support photographic voter identification requirements. The most recent Civitas Poll found 65 percent of voter support for the proposed constitutional amendment.
One argument in particular that the opposition panelists levied against the amendment does not hold up under closer scrutiny. The opposition stressed the fact that the amendment requires a photographic ID but does not specify which types of photo ID will be accepted. Crayton called this a “blank check” and implied that voters should not trust the legislature to set the laws.
The General Assembly will be responsible for writing the implementing laws of constitutional amendments. The state’s constitution, by design, serves as a framework for all state laws. It is not intended to encompass the full scope of the state’s laws. That is the role of the legislative branch.
Some argue that the General Assembly should have passed implementing language for the amendments before they were put on the ballot. While this is a perfectly reasonable suggestion, it is worth noting that it would have done nothing to cement that language from future changes.
Critics claim that the implementing language is needed for voters to “know what they’re voting on,” but this is a mischaracterization. Voters are weighing in on the amendment itself on the ballot this November. Any implementing legislation is not subject to direct voter approval, but is instead developed through the traditional representative lawmaking process of the General Assembly. And since any implementing language will not be in the state’s constitution, the General Assembly has the power to change it at any point in the future. This is true whether those statutes are passed before or after the amendment itself.
Although no implementing language has been passed for the voter ID amendment, a 2013 voter ID law in North Carolina could provide some insights into the types of ID the General Assembly may consider.
Critics of the amendment have claimed that voters should reject the amendment because they “don’t know what they’re voting on.” But the truth is that North Carolinians have consistently stated that they support requiring a photographic identification to vote in person. That is a simple step that can go a long way in adding security to our elections. This November, North Carolina voters will get to decide for themselves.
The Voter ID debate aired on In Focus with Loretta Boniti on Spectrum News. Watch the debate here.