North Carolina counties try to go it alone to require photo ID
Legal questions surface before legislation
Earlier this year, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue vetoed voter photo ID legislation bucking a nationwide trend that has seen voter photo ID laws grow this year.
The General Assembly failed to override the veto and is again currently in special session with that on the agenda, but according to media reports the prospects of overturning the veto appear slim.
While debate continues at the state level, some counties in North Carolina are taking matters into their own hands. Recently several counties approved resolutions asking their state representatives to introduce legislation that would allow them to require voter photo ID at the county level.
Local election administrators are taking a wait and see approach about how the legislation — if enacted — would impact them, although many admitted that the first time they heard about the resolutions was through the local media.
“My office was not consulted or made aware of any pending voter ID resolution before it was approved by the Gaston County Commission,” explained Adam Ragan, director of elections for Gaston County. “I first heard about the resolution after it was passed by reading about it in our local newspaper.”
Erin Burridge, director of the Craven County Board of Elections said that while she was aware of the resolution before the county voted to approve it, her office was not consulted about it prior to the vote.
Ragan said without seeing any actual legislation he was unclear of the impacts it could have on the workload or budget of the county board.
“There will be some impact on our office workload but I won’t know for sure until any legislation is passed by the General Assembly,” Ragan said.
Like Ragan, Burridge said that she could not even begin to speculate the impacts such a law would have on her office, but she does expect there would be some.
While counties are hoping the General Assembly will take up their cause, the state’s Department of Justice is urging caution.
In a letter issued on November 23, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson G. Kelly wrote that uneven local election laws raise equal protection questions under both the state and U.S. constitutions.
“…it appears likely our courts would conclude that voter identification requirements, if otherwise constitutional, must be enacted through general laws applicable statewide to all voters in a class,” Grayson wrote. “Legislation which enacts such requirements through multiple local acts would therefore be deemed impermissible under the Constitution.”
Grayson concluded his letter by saying, “It is therefore our opinion that the enactment of local bills requiring photo voter identification in certain counties would likely be held unconstitutional by the courts.”
Gary O. Bartlett, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections said that other than directives issued by court order, there are no other county-by-county election laws in the state.
Because this process is still very much in the early stages, Bartlett is unsure of the impacts any new law would have on the state board.
“Until the particulars of the enacted bill are known, I can only provide general comment,” Bartlett said. “The state board has oversight of all elections in North Carolina, thus at the least, we would have to manage different laws and policies instead of uniform application of election laws.”
Bartlett said this could lead to confusion of the voter and administrator, especially living in a mobile society where people frequently move.
And not all counties have jumped onboard the movement.
In the same week Craven and Gaston counties overwhelmingly voted yes, commissioners in Columbus County voted unanimously against a resolution saying they were in favor of the bill.
“We spend all this time and energy trying to encourage young people and seniors to go vote and I can see this being an obstacle to prevent them from voting,” Commissioner Amon McKenzie told WECT.