Of the six amendments to the state constitution this election, one in particular stands out to many voters—an amendment that would require photo identification to vote. Last Monday morning, the Reverend Dr. Richard Gray came downtown to vote early against all of the amendments. “I’m passionate about the entire ballot,” said Reverend Dr. Richard Gray, who pastors New Zion Baptist Church in Linwood. “But especially the amendments, to vote against them.”
Gray was just one voter drawn out to the polls because of the amendments. Across the board, voters on both sides of the aisle said they came out to vote in part because they felt passionately about the amendments.
The other five amendments to the North Carolina Constitution include an amendment that protects the right of people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife; an amendment that strengthens the protections for victims of crime; an amendment that drops the cap on income tax from ten to seven percent; and an amendment that gives more power to the state Legislature to appoint judges.
The final proposed amendment is one that would establish an eight person bipartisan ethics board in the Constitution. This is a change from the current Bipartisan Board of Elections that consists of nine members. If passed, this amendment would remove the only member that represents unaffiliated voters.
A Republican Legislature put all six of the amendments on the ballot. Democrats have criticized these amendments as being a political power grab on the part of the Republicans. According to Democrats, part of the threat comes from how little is known about the details of the amendments.
Many voters passionately disavowed all of the amendments. “[The amendments] are all Republican doublespeak,” said early voter Julia Bragg. “And I’m voting against them.”
For Republican voters and politicians, voter fraud is a concern. Andy Farrell, a former polling judge, expressed concern over making sure each vote counted is valid. “If you don’t require ID, it really waters things down,” said Farrell. “It opens us up for fraud and the election may be skewed by people who aren’t well meaning.”
“You need an ID for everything else—banking, driving, and picking up a prescription,” Farrell added. “It’s ridiculous that you don’t need one to vote.”
Early voter Margaret Walker agreed with Farrell, stating that although she was aware of all the amendments, the photo ID proposal is one she would support.
This amendment proposal comes just two years after a law with similar requirements was struck down. In 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found a photo ID law to be unconstitutional on the grounds of discrimination. This took place three years after the Supreme Court struck down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that gave the Justice Department power in overseeing changes in the election procedures reform, prompting North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature to rewrite the state voting laws.
The court of appeals found that the law “disproportionately affected African-Americans.” In part, this was due to the kinds of photo ID that were accepted under the bill. This law did not count IDs issued to government employees, students, and people receiving government assistance— forms of ID disproportionately held by African-Americans.
Dr. Michael Pisapia, assistant professor of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, outlined the ways in which this ID issue is not a new one. According to Pisapia, the main difference between this amendment and the bill in 2013 is that the latter had clear racial motivation. He said that an ID requirement in itself does not violate the U.S. Constitution; it is the specific details within the law. In the 2013 case, the obstacles that affected certain groups of voters were too great to be considered a coincidence.
This amendment, along with the other five, needs a majority of votes to pass. If it does, the Legislature would then make laws detailing the acceptable and unacceptable forms of identification.
Currently, an ID is not required to vote unless you are a first time voter who registered through mail without providing a driver’s license number or the last four digits of your social security number at the time of registration. Early voting will continue to run in North Carolina through November 3, with polls opening again on Election Day.