“You can vote with or without a North Carolina driver’s license or other photo ID.” That was the refrain that Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, returned to again and again during a press conference held this week to clarify state voter ID rules for the upcoming election. His group has accused the state elections board of distributing misleading information about the ID requirement. “We are deeply, deeply concerned with the message that’s going out from our State Board of Elections,” Barber said. “What we’ve seen happening is at best disingenuous, and at worst a cynical attempt to further suppress the vote.” The controversy goes back to 2013, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision weakening the Voting Rights Act enabled the North Carolina legislature to pass a restrictive voting law that among other things required citizens to show one of several approved photo IDs before being allowed to vote. The NAACP and other civil rights groups sued the state over the law’s constitutionality, with the federal trial on the ID requirements set to start on Jan. 25 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
With growing concern that the photo ID rules would not pass constitutional review, state lawmakers adopted legislation in the 11th hour of last year’s legislative session easing requirements. Under the new law, voters who lack one of the approved forms of ID due to a “reasonable impediment” — illness, transportation problems, a lack of needed documents, etc. — will be able to vote by provisional ballot if they sign a declaration describing the impediment and provide:
* the last four digits of their Social Security number and their birthdate, or
* present their current voter registration card, or
* show a document with their name and address such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
Given that voting is a fundamental constitutional right, elections officials must interpret what qualifies as a reasonable impediment broadly in the voter’s favor, as long as the explanation given isn’t nonsensical.
“The problem is, people out in the communities don’t know that,” said Irving Joyner, a law professor at N.C. Central University and an attorney for the state NAACP.