House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited voter id bill Thursday, offering a less restrictive version than the measure that was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue two years ago.
The measure would require all voters to show a government-issued photograph at the polls starting with the 2016 elections, in what supporters said was an effort to restore voter confidence in the electoral system.
But it would include several provisions that seem designed to address the concerns of critics who charged that it would disenfranchise older voters, students, and the poor. The bill would accept expired driver's licenses up to 10 years, student ID's from public universities, state employee Ids, and would allow persons older than 70 years to use old IDs. It would also require the state to provide free photo ID's to those who claim financial hardship.
House Speaker Thom Tillis of Matthews couched the voter ID bill as a compromise that would not fully satisfy partisans on either side of the debate.
But Tillis said the bill stuck with the “core principles” of those who want a voter ID.
“It's very different than the bill we tried to pass last year,” Tillis said at a news conference attended by a number of other GOP lawmakers. “It has tried to take into account a number of the concerns that were raised. It is a bill we are very confident will withstand any challenge that may come to us by way of the courts.''
“The citizens of North Carolina want some form of voter ID legislation,” Tillis said. “I think it really restores confidence in voter outcomes.''
The Republican controlled legislature passed a voter ID bill in 2011, but it was vetoed by Perdue. But this time, the measure seems certain to become law because Republican Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned on the need for a voter ID law.
Opponents have said they are likely to challenge the voter ID law in the courts, just as they have done in other states.
Assured of passage, Tillis and other Republican leaders have run what they called “a transparent” process, holding hearings, and hearing testimony on the bill. They said they incorporated some of the recommendations in the bill.
A public hearing is set for next Wednesday at 4 pm with a House vote expected April 22-23.
Under the measure, if a person does not have a photo ID, a person could still cast a provisional ballot, but would be required to return at a later time to show an ID for the vote to be counted.
Voters who do not have driver's licenses – estimates have ranged in the several hundred thousand range – could get a free voter non-operator ID from the Division of Motor Vehicles at an estimated cost of $10. There could be additional costs, if a person had to get a birth certificate in order to get the ID.
But the measure would have the state cover the costs if the person signed a document declaring financial hardship. Republican lawmakers said they had no estimate for what the cost of the program might cost.
“The nice plus on this is that these same ID cards can be used for other things,'' said Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte.
The measure would also tighten the restrictions on absentee ballots, in which no photo ID is required. An official form will be developed that will require a person to provide a driver's license or social security number, or other government documents on the absentee ballot.
“We are trying to improve the integrity of the absentee ballot process as well as requiring a straight voter ID,” said Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County.
The absentee program would go into effect in 2014 – two years before the the voter ID.
The bill would also create a board called the Voter Information Verification Agency comprised of 14 employees who will work with counties to help educate voters in the transition to voter ID, and assist voters in getting Ids, and do voter outreach.