As North Carolina adjusts to a law requiring photo identification to vote, Buncombe County Election Services is offering the service free to any registered voter who needs one.
Corinne Duncan, director of elections, says that her office and those around the state are working to inform voters of the requirement and offer free voter photo IDs.
Registered voters can stop by the elections office at 59 Woodfin Place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. any weekday to get an ID printed and given to them on the spot. Voters will need to provide their name, date of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security number, as well as have their photo taken. Residents also can register to vote at that time if needed.
“We are doing our best to make sure that there is a free option,” Duncan says.
Jeff Rose, chair of the Buncombe County Democratic Party, says his organization also will be doing outreach.
“Right now, we’re starting a program to reach out to voters who are less likely to vote based on past voter history,” says Rose. “And we’re making them aware of the program that the Board of Elections has to issue free IDs.”
But Buncombe County Republican Party Chairman Doug Brown has concerns about the program. In a press release provided to Xpress, Brown writes, “When the DMV issues a valid ID, it is based on documentation that holds up under scrutiny and the law. At present however, the Board of Elections requires only a person’s last four digits of a SSN, a birthdate and an address — all of which could be fabricated. It would take no effort for folks to present a false address, name and set of numbers and be permitted to vote.”
Duncan disputes that assertion, noting that voters still need to be registered to vote in order to obtain an ID. The process for registering will remain the same under the new law, which includes steps to verify a voter’s identity.
Brown did not return further requests for comment.
Duncan adds that there is a long list of exceptions that would allow registered voters to cast their ballots even if they do not show photo identification, which includes lack of transportation, disability or illness or missing documents usually required to obtain an ID, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card (a full list of exceptions can be found at avl.mx/czr). These voters will need to fill out an ID Exception Form before casting their vote.
Other than the ID requirement, in-person voting will feel the same as in previous years, she says. “The process is exactly the same,” Duncan explains. “[Voters] will go up and check in with a poll worker, state your name and address, and they will look you up in the system and ask you for your photo ID. Poll workers will check for reasonable resemblance.”
Absentee voting, she continues, will change under the new law. Registered voters will still need to request and complete an absentee ballot but are also required to provide a photocopy of their photo identification alongside their ballot.
She emphasizes that everyone who wants to vote will be able to vote regardless of the new requirement.
“If you don’t fall under those [exceptions], of course, you can still vote a provisional ballot,” says Duncan.
A lengthy struggle
North Carolina now requires ID to vote because the N.C. Supreme Court ruled recently that Senate Bill 824, a voter ID law originally passed in 2018 by the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly, is constitutional.
Acceptable forms of ID, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections, include a driver’s license, state ID card, passport or military ID. Some forms of government employee IDs and student IDs are also permitted, among other options (a full list of accepted IDs can be found at avl.mx/czr). Most forms of ID need to be unexpired or expired for up to one year to be accepted.
Proponents of the law say that requiring photo IDs to vote helps preserve election integrity and reduce instances of voter fraud. Others worry that the laws will decrease voter participation, particularly among voters who are young, people of color, low income or elderly.
Voter ID laws in the U.S. are not new. They stem from the use of laws to disenfranchise minority voters during the Jim Crow Era, when many states required literacy tests, poll taxes and extralegal measures such as violence and intimidation, to prevent Black residents from voting. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed many discriminatory voting tactics, but the push for voter ID laws persisted.
Indiana was the first state to enact a photo ID requirement for voting in 2006, and today, 35 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls.
The fight over voter ID laws in North Carolina stretches back to 2013 when the Republican-led General Assembly approved a law that would require photo identification for voters. That law was struck down in 2016 by a federal three-judge panel that found the law discriminatory against Black voters and other voters of color. All three judges had been appointed by Democratic presidents.
The state’s voter ID law resurfaced again in 2018, this time in the form of a referendum. At the time, a majority of voters approved the constitutional amendment requiring photographic identification before casting their ballot. That led to Senate Bill 824, which was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The governor’s veto was overridden by the General Assembly but was quickly challenged by a series of lawsuits.
In one such lawsuit, Holmes v. Moore, the N.C. Supreme Court, comprising a 4-3 Democratic majority of justices, again found the photo ID requirement unconstitutional, citing a violation of the equal protection guarantee in the state’s constitution.
But Republicans obtained a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court after the 2022 election, and the court then decided to rehear and reverse the prior court’s decision in April.
Bolster or barrier?
The lengthy and litigious history of North Carolina’s ID law reflects a deep partisan divide over the law’s impact on voters.
“What we’ve seen from photo ID laws around the country is that they make it harder for young voters, for minority voters, and in a lot of cases, for elderly voters to participate in the electoral process,” Rose says.
Kevin Quinn, a researcher at the University of Michigan who provided testimony during a lawsuit filed by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenging the constitutionality of the 2018 photo ID law, found that Black voters in particular are 39% more likely than white voters to lack an acceptable form of ID.
A 2021 report from Cambridge University Press examined voter turnout in North Carolina after the 2013 law went into effect and found that the law reduced turnout. The report found that the law’s impact on turnout persisted even after it was later repealed.
Meanwhile, many Republicans who support voter ID laws contend that they reduce instances of voter fraud and strengthen the perception of election integrity. According to reporting from Carolina Public Press, N.C. House speaker Tim Moore said that the state’s voter ID law aimed to make it “easy to vote but hard to cheat.”
But numerous studies indicate that in-person voter impersonation is rare. One report from the Brennan Center, a progressive nonprofit law and public policy institute, found that voter impersonation was identified in as little as 0.0003% of all ballots cast. A 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000-14, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
“The kind of fraud that photo ID electoral fraud that [a] photo ID [law] could prevent has just simply not been proven to happen in the United States anywhere,” says Rose. “Voter impersonation is a very ineffective way to influence elections to begin with.”
Brown, from the county Republican Party, did not reply to requests for comment on the need for voter ID laws or the studies showing that voter impersonation is rare.
While some Republican lawmakers insist that the new law will strengthen election integrity following the 2020 general election, in which some Republicans claimed without evidence that there was widespread voter fraud, Rose says it might have the opposite effect.
“I obviously can’t speak for folks who believe the 2020 election was rigged or stolen. But everything I’ve seen since that election from our local party, from the state party and nationally, is that folks are just doubling down on those conspiracies, even though they’ve been proven over and over again not to be true,” he explains. “I think that these laws perpetuate the notion that [voter fraud] was happening, and it was a problem.”