Voting rights advocates were at least somewhat pleased when the North Carolina General Assembly unexpectedly voted in June to modify the state’s strict requirement that voters present government-issued photo ID at the polls. But now, they’re concerned that the state won’t adequately educate people about the softened ID law before it goes into effect next year. In July 2013, Gov. Pat McCrory (R) had signed an extensive package of voting restrictions that included the photo ID provision along with cuts to early voting and the elimination of same-day registration. A federal judge is currently hearing arguments over whether that law discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and students. The trial is considered one of the biggest tests of the recently weakened federal Voting Rights Act. Supporters of voter ID laws argue that they combat in-person impersonation fraud (although the supporters present little evidence of such fraud), while opponents say they reduce turnout among minorities and younger voters.
The new law passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in June allows voters to use an alternative form of ID at the polls if they can declare a “reasonable impediment” that prevented them from presenting an appropriate photo ID. While some conservative advocates were upset about the legislature’s move, state lawmakers defended it as providing a “fail-safe” for eligible voters who, for instance, lost their driver’s license a couple of days before an election. In response to the new language, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder set aside any argument over the voter ID provision for a later hearing.
Now, civil rights advocates are asking how the state plans to mitigate the inevitable confusion over the new exceptions, after all that was done to tell voters about the photo ID rule in the first place. During last year’s midterm elections, poll workers warned voters that they would need a government-issued ID to vote in 2016, and the state mailed notices to 218,000 North Carolinians whom it suspected lacked an acceptable form of identification.