NC House Republicans rolled out their long-awaited photo ID bill today, complete with a press conference and an initial round of responses from ID opponents. At its core, H-589 follows the model of the Republican bill (H-351) that Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed in 2011; it says all voters who go to the polls must show a government-issued photo ID before their ballot will count. An ID from a private college is not acceptable. If you show up without the right photo ID, you can fill out a provisional ballot but it won’t count unless you travel to the local board of elections in the next several days and show the right photo ID. Same runaround as in H-351. This new bill includes a number of bells and whistles that will help reduce the number of voters without the right ID; for example, it exempts people with a federally defined disability and accepts a photo document that “reasonably resembles” you, even if it’s from an out-of-state government agency and expired up to 10 years ago, longer for voters who are age 70 and older.
Importantly, the photo requirement doesn’t take effect until the elections in 2016 – that’s a positive – and there’s lots of useful language about outreach to help people get IDs. In fact, the bill creates a new agency within the State Board of Elections with a staff of up to 14 people to conduct education and outreach programs! Hmmm. Aren’t these the same Republicans who say government is too big? Another contradiction: A voter can get a free ID and the qualifying documents for the ID if they are willing to swear under penalty of a felony that “paying the fee would present a financial hardship.” Who would risk making that kind of assertion if they also ate lunch that day? Finally, the bill includes new rules for voting through the mail. Voters must use a form created by the Board of Elections to apply for an absentee ballot and must return the application with an identifying number (social security or driver’s license) or copy of a HAVA document (utility bill, bank statement, payroll check, or a government document with current address and name).
Despite some charming sounds from the bells and whistles, the photo ID legislation is still a giant waste of money and creates more problems than it solves. (In fact, there’s still no effort to document the problem it’s supposed to solve.) Having the hammer not drop until 2016 is helpful, but the treatment of voters who show up at the polls without the necessary document is harsh and unacceptable. Why can’t they be treated the same as the person who votes through the mail? Don’t make a registered voter come back a second time after standing in line for 45 minutes. Let them provide their birth date, last four digits of their social security number, sign an attestation under penalty of a felony, and cast a ballot. That’s the new requirement for a voter who votes through the mail, a person who election officials don’t even see; why shouldn’t it be an option for the voter standing there, ready to swear and produce identifying numbers that can be verified?