How N. Carolina may be blocking 218,000 voters from polls on Tuesday

North Carolina is among 16 states that have new voting restrictions for the first time in a presidential election. Critics of voter ID laws say that such policies disproportionately affect the poor, minorities, college students, and senior citizens. 

Scott Hoffmann/News & Record
David Boger blacked out his address on a drivers license to protest the new North Carolina Voter ID law as he cast his ballot in Greensboro, NC on Tuesday, March 15, 2016. On Aug. 13, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a voter ID bill that mandates a government-issued photo and reduced the state's early voting period from 17 to 10 days.

It took Ethelene Douglas two out-of-state trips, four excursions to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the purchase of government documents for $86, over the span of two years, in order to obtain the right identification to vote this week.

In the 85-year-old’s home state of North Carolina, there are about 218,000 registered voters who don’t have a government-issued photo ID that is now required to vote. Not all of them will have Ms. Douglas’ patience – or access to the necessary resources, and as primary voters head to the polls Tuesday, at least 864 voters across the state have already been curtailed by the newly enforced voter ID law during the previous week of early voting.

Opponents of voter-ID laws argue that the requirements unfairly affect minorities, students, and low-income residents – demographics that are much more likely to vote Democrat than Republican.

Proponents of voter-ID requirements say that mandatory proof of identity is not intended to dissuade voters. Rather, they're in place to prevent voter fraud. However, research has found minimal evidence that voter fraud exists in tangible levels.

As of March, 36 states have adopted policies that require voters to show some form of identification when they vote. Research suggest that nationally, there are 3 million registered voters who don’t have a government-issued ID.

This year will be the first time for 16 states to enforce the provisions, and preliminary data show that in these states, Democratic voter turnout has substantially dropped. Eight of the 16 have held primaries as of March 3, and collectively, Democratic voter turnout was 285 percent worse in these states than states that don’t have recent voter ID laws.

"It's disproportionately affecting people with out-of-state licenses," Bob Hall, director of the anti-voting laws group, Democracy North Carolina, told WRAL news.

Without in-state licenses or passports, college students make an exceptionally unlucky group. Under current law, North Carolina allows out-of-state driver’s licenses only if the voter registered within 90 days of the election.

Mr. Hall said that given the hiccups during in-person early voting, voters Tuesday will encounter the same hindrances, except in larger numbers.

But compared to other states, North Carolina’s laws are considered “non-strict” by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In the Tar Heel State, voters without acceptable ID can cast provisional ballots by signing an affidavit that promises “reasonable impediment.” State officials say they will help these voters after the March 15 primary in obtaining the right documents.

In states like Texas, Kansas, and Tennessee, however, voters without ID must take additional steps after Election Day in order for their provisional ballots to count.

The smattering of new voter-ID laws were at least partially catalyzed by the 2010 election results, in which Republicans gained full control of 21 states. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act so that seven states in the South are now no longer under federal oversight regarding disenfranchisement.

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights project, tells The Christian Science Monitor that five of these states have since adopted new voter-ID laws.

While the precise impact of these new batch of voter-ID laws on this year’s election turnout remains at large, Mr. Ho says that is beside the point. Former US Attorney General Eric Holder cited in 2012 that 25 percent of African Americans and 8 percent of whites do not have government-issued photo IDs. 

“Even if a handful of properly registered voters are denied the right to participate, that’s a real problem,” he says. “It’s bad policy, and from our perspective, it violates federal law.”

And Democrats aren't the only ones vulnerable. Even after Reba Bowser presented two different birth certificates, an expired driver's license, a Social Security card, a Medicaid card, and her house lease to the DMV, the 86-year-old, who has voted Republican since Eisenhower, was still denied by North Carolina. 

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