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Senate Republicans unveil stricter NC voter ID bill

RALEIGH Resurrecting one of the legislative session’s most contentious issues, Senate Republicans unveiled a new voter ID bill Thursday that would further restrict the forms of photo identification accepted at the polls.

The new measure would require voters to show one of seven types of photo identification issued by the government, such as driver’s licenses, passports, non-driver IDs and military or veteran cards.

It eliminates about half the types of photo identification allowed under the House version, including cards from UNC system colleges, state community colleges, local governments, private employers and law enforcement agencies. The bill would take full effect in the 2016 elections.

“We want a state-issued ID or a federal-issued ID,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the bill’s chief supporter, expressing concern that college IDs “could be manipulated” and allow out-of-state students to vote in two states.

“We want it succinct, and we are willing to pay for it,” he added, noting that the bill would provide free photo IDs to people without them.

The major rewrite came two months after the House approved its voter ID bill and a week before the session’s scheduled end. The disagreement is the latest example of the legislature’s majority party ending up divided over how to deliver on a major campaign promise.

The prohibition on college IDs will draw the most attention – particularly given President Barack Obama’s reliance on the youth vote to win North Carolina in 2008. The large number of college students in the Triangle area helped push him to victory and kept the margin of defeat close in 2012.

Emmie Horadam, a rising senior at Queens University and a Democrat, helped register Charlotte-area students to vote in the last election. On college campuses, she said, many students are more likely to carry their school ID instead of a driver’s license. “That’s what we all carry,” she said. “It’s just a lot easier.”

Neither the House version nor Senate version would allow private school college IDs, but Horadam said that should change. “It’s just one thing Republicans are trying to push through to discourage college students from voting,” she said.State Rep. David Lewis, who sponsored the House bill, said the provision allowing college IDs at the polls is “important and should remain in the ultimate bill.”

But even with the key disagreement, Lewis said he remains confident that the two chambers will reach a resolution before they adjourn next week.

“It’s all about continuing to improve the confidence in elections,” the Dunn Republican said. “Both chambers are focused on the same end goal, and we’ll get there.”

Democrats strongly opposed the House measure, disputing Republican claims of voter fraud and citing a state study that showed hundreds of thousands of voters don’t have driver’s licenses. They were even more critical of the Senate bill.

“It basically shows the true purpose of this voter ID law and that is to suppress participation,” said Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat.

“They are adding as many hurdles as possible,” added state Rep. Duane Hall, a Raleigh Democrat. Not allowing college IDs is one of the “more pointedly partisan pieces of it because they know college students tend to vote more Democratic than Republican. It’s just another example of how this bill is partisan.”

Republican lawmakers are emboldened in their effort to push a photo identification requirement for in-person voting after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling means the bill would no longer need Justice Department approval before it becomes law.

Other changes in the Senate bill would cut some measures designed to educate voters about the changes. It eliminated a House provision to create a new advisory board tasked with educating the public, instead shifting that responsibility to the State Board of Elections.

The new bill also seeks to add assistance to help voters in nursing homes and emphasizes warnings that filing a false ballot is fraudulent.

A Senate panel is expected to hear the bill early next week with a floor vote soon after. The House isn’t likely to agree to the changes, setting up last-minute negotiations. House and Senate leaders hope to adjourn by the end of next week.

Frank: 919-829-4698
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