North Carolina Republicans Want a Constitutional Amendment to Require ID to Vote

The voter ID law was struck down in court, so now the GOP is putting it on the November ballot.

Voter ID rules posted at a polling place in Greensboro, N.C. News & Record via AP/Andrew Krech

North Carolina Republicans are resurrecting their efforts to require voters to present specific forms of identification in order to cast a ballot, after an earlier voter ID law was struck down for discriminating against African Americans. This time, they’re trying to do it through a constitutional amendment.

On Thursday, Republicans in the legislature introduced a constitutional amendment that would require a photo ID to vote. It is expected to pass the legislature in the coming days and be placed on the ballot for voters’ approval in November. 

A voter ID law passed by the legislature in 2013 was blocked by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016 for targeting “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court found that African Americans in North Carolina “disproportionately lacked DMV-issued ID” and that the legislature wrote the bill to exclude IDs that African Americans were more likely to possess, such as student IDs and public employee IDs. According to the state’s own numbers, 316,000 registered voters didn’t have a driver’s license or state ID from the DMV; 34 percent were African Americans (who make up 22 percent of the state’s population) and 55 percent were registered Democrats.

Now North Carolina Republicans are asking voters to pass the same type of law. But given that the earlier law was struck down in federal court for violating the US Constitution, it’s not clear how an amendment to the state constitution would change that.

“It’s certainly not constitutional to embed discrimination in the state constitution,” says Allison Riggs, a lawyer for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which successfully challenged the voter ID law in court. “The intent being employed here is obvious: the legislature is trying to trick the voters into doing the heavy lifting for them. That doesn’t cure them of their discriminatory intent.” Voting rights groups in North Carolina, such as Democracy NC, have come out in opposition to the amendment. 

House Speaker Tim Moore called the amendment a “commonsense measure to secure the integrity of our elections system.” But the Fourth Circuit found that stopping voter fraud was not a compelling rationale for the law, noting that “the State has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.”

Republicans expect the constitutional amendment to energize conservative voters and pass in November. Similar voter ID amendments were defeated by voters in Minnesota in 2012 but passed in Missouri in 2016.

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