Voter identification has been a longstanding goal for North Carolina Republicans. In 2013, just after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, the state legislature controlled by Republicans passed a bill substantially rewriting election laws. It included a voter identification requirement that was among the strictest in the nation, accepting only a narrow set of government issued identification. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down the law. Instead of enacting another bill, Republicans placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year. The measure simply stated that a photo identification would be required to cast a ballot in North Carolina elections but left the details up to the legislature. Voters approved the measure 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, so the question is not if there will be voter identification in North Carolina, but rather how it will look.
The legislature convened recently to consider enabling legislation and took a much more expansive view this time. Unlike 2013, the legislature held extensive public hearings and sought information from entities such as private colleges and community colleges on requirements for issuing their student identification. Both the state House and the Senate devoted a substantial amount of committee time to vetting and amending the legislation. Another new development in the legislation was that both the House and Senate versions of the bill had Democratic cosponsors.
The bill that received final legislative approval on December 6 provides that the following forms of identification can be used to vote: driver’s licenses, passports, military and veteran IDs, college IDs (private, public and community colleges), government employee IDs, tribal IDs for state-recognized tribes as well as those that are federally recognized, and identification cards issued to non-drivers. The law also provides that county boards of election must issue a photo identification at no charge to any voter who requests one. In one of several concessions to Democrats, the bill was amended to add that the free IDs issued by county election boards will be available during early voting.