In N.C., too many ‘unacceptable’ voters

Before N.C. lawmakers draw up a new photo ID law, they should think about the problems the old one created.
Before N.C. lawmakers draw up a new photo ID law, they should think about the problems the old one created. Observer file photo

Janice Franklin has some advice for state legislators preparing to rewrite the photo ID law that the U.S. Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional. “They should look at what happened last time before doing a new one,” she told me.

Ms. Franklin, of Charlotte, is disabled, doesn’t drive, and lost her vote in the 2016 primary when voters needed to show an “acceptable” identity document at the polls. She showed her Social Security card and filled out two forms, but that wasn’t enough.

“It’s not common sense at all,” she said about the so-called “common sense” ID law.


Charles Young of Catawba County showed his expired passport with his photo; poll workers knew him but still turned him away. Anna Mae McCourry of Yancey County showed her credit cards and an old DMV learner’s permit; Sadia Pollard, a college student in Guilford County, showed her out-of-state license; Robert Watson of Bertie County, an interstate truck driver, showed his commercial license; Tiffany Sloan of Hoke County showed her school photo ID.

All these documents verified the voters’ identity – they weren’t impersonators! But none of their ballots counted.

Instead of protecting voters from cheaters, the ID law cheated too many honest citizens out of their vote. Election documents reveal that over 1,400 citizens lost their right to vote in the 2016 primary when the ID law was in effect – and that’s just the number who spent time completing extra forms, hoping their ballots would count. Many more without an “acceptable” photo ID simply left the poll.

North Carolina’s law had about the shortest list of acceptable IDs in the nation. According to court records, legislators knowingly designed the list to disadvantage the poor, African Americans, and students.

Legislators added a safety backup: if you lacked an acceptable ID, just get one free from a DMV office. What a farce! Even pro-ID legislators admitted DMV agents haphazardly turned people away; several counties don’t even have a DMV office.

The second backup allowed voters without acceptable ID to fill out a “reasonable impediment declaration,” but it didn’t work either. Voters completing the declaration in exactly the same way got approved in one county but rejected in another. Others weren’t even offered this option.

Significantly, 34 percent of the 1,400 silenced voters were African Americans, compared to 23 percent of all voters.

The State Board of Elections’ comprehensive audit of the 2016 general election shows that having voters sign in, under penalty of felony perjury, effectively prevented impersonation at the polls. The ID barrier was gone by then; the felony penalty works well as a deterrent against people signing someone else’s name to gain one vote.

The election board’s audit found only one case where a photo ID requirement would have stopped a cheater.

Bottom line: over 1,400 documented cases of silenced voters with the ID law versus one case of impersonation without it.

Legislators: How many voters will be silenced by your next law? What evidence justifies changing the current sign-and-swear system? How will you protect the rights of voters who show up without your “acceptable” ID?

Bob Hall is director of the non-partisan Democracy North Carolina, which promotes voter participation and fair elections.