Attempts by the state legislature to pass local bills requiring voters in some, but not all, counties to produce photo identification at the polls would fail to meet the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, according to a recent analysis by the N.C. Attorney General’s Office.
The state Department of Justice, in a Nov. 23 advisory letter sent to Gov. Bev Perdue’s office, indicated that a strategy by GOP leaders to circumvent Perdue’s June veto of a voter ID bill would run into constitutional issues. Having individual counties ask for more stringent identification rules would create an unconstitutional scenario where voters in some counties face more hurdles to vote than in other areas.
“It is therefore our views that significant equal protection concerns would arise if voter identification requirements were established for some voters and not others based merely on their county of residence,” wrote Grayson Kelley, the chief deputy Attorney General, in the letter. He later added, “The enactment of local acts applying photo voter identification requirements in only certain counties would raise serious equal protection issues under both the United States Constitution and North Carolina Constitution.”
Click here to read Kelley’s seven-page advisory letter to Mark Davis, Perdue’s general counsel, obtained by N.C. Policy Watch through a public records request.
In recent weeks, a handful of conservative county commissions (in Craven, Davidson, Gaston, Lincoln and Rowan counties) have passed resolutions requesting that the legislature allow the counties to require photo identification to vote. The legislature would then, during a special session, have to pass what’s called a “local bill” in order to grant those powers to those counties. Local bills are generally exempt from governor vetoes, and usually deal with issues specific to counties.
But Kelley, in his letter, said that the courts would likely find that lawmakers don’t have the ability to push through piecemeal changes to voter identification requirements, and that state law calls for changes of that magnitude be made through an all-encompassing general bill, like the one that was vetoed by Perdue.
Kelley also says in the letter that Perdue would necessarily be stripped of her ability to veto those local bills, because the larger voter registration issue had already been taken up by state lawmakers.