NC Senate outdoes the House with harsh voter ID law

Voting rights advocates turned out in force for a march organized by the NAACP in Raleigh, N.C. earlier this year, and they are expected to show up again for this coming Moral Monday protest. (Photo by Brentin Mock)

After North Carolina House Republicans passed one of the harshest photo voter ID bills in the country in April, Senate Republicans have gone even further by scrapping university and community college IDs from the list of eligible forms of identification. Unveiled this week, the Senate's version of the voter ID bill also disqualifies an out-of-state driver's license after 90 days and cuts resources for informing voters about the election law changes.
The Voter Identification Verification Act Board, set up in the House version to help North Carolina voters without ID -- estimated at over 300,000 people, disproportionately minority and low-income -- was also stripped out of the bill. And no identification card issued to county or city public employees, or from public assistance agencies, would be allowed for voting, either.

A comparison between the two chambers’ bills can be read here:

Senate leader Phil Berger said of the bill, "For years, an overwhelming majority of North Carolinians have voiced strong support for this common sense policy."

But polls sponsored by the N.C. League of Women Voters and Democracy North Carolina found that most voters in the state strongly support non-photo ID alternatives. They also found that 70 percent of North Carolina voters oppose turning away registered voters who lack ID so long as they sign an affidavit and verify their identity through a birth date or Social Security number. And 72 percent of the state's voters said they thought it was wrong to pass laws that burden certain voting populations, while 62 percent said they opposed a voter ID law that disadvantaged one political party over the other.

The Senate's harsh voter ID bill is the latest example of the extreme conservative turn of North Carolina's legislature, which has earned national notoriety for dialing back numerous progressive state laws passed over the last few decades.

The New York Times editorial board wrote last week that "North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”

Civil rights and voting rights groups in North Carolina organized for years to successfully pass laws expanding access to the ballot. They included laws allowing early voting, Sunday voting and same-day registration -- all now being targeted by Republican lawmakers.

The NAACP and allied groups have been holding what are billed as "Moral Monday" protests at the state legislature since late April to voice opposition to these and other laws that have punishing effects on low-income households and people of color. Over 800 participants have been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience. The 12th protest planned for this coming Monday, July 22, will focus on voting rights.

"North Carolina is moving the clock back to a time when voting was only available to some, not to all," said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that's brought legal action against restrictive voting laws around the nation. "By denying people their right to vote, North Carolina is undermining the very bedrock of our democracy."