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Charlotte is the first test case for North Carolina's photo ID law

Cole del Charco

This story first appeared in WFAE reporter Steve Harrison's weekly newsletter. Sign up here to get the news first in your inbox.

The cities of Charlotte and Sanford are now holding municipal primary elections — the first in which voters must show photo ID under the 2018 constitutional amendment requiring it.

Early voting started in Charlotte on Aug. 24. Since then, 556 people have voted in the city as of Friday.

Mecklenburg Elections Director Michael Dickerson said he’s had no reports of anyone coming to the polls without an ID. He also said no one has filled out an “ID exception form” that allows them to vote with a provisional ballot if they don’t have an ID.

In Lee County, where Sanford is located, the Board of Elections said this week it hasn’t had anyone try and vote without an ID.

This is a very small sample size, of course. And more high-profile elections will bring more sporadic voters to the polls, some of whom won’t have photo ID.

But a look at the actual photo ID law shows its impact should be small — so long as people realize they can vote without one.

One way is to vote a provisional ballot and then return to the county Board of Elections with a photo ID.

But there is an easier way: Fill out the ID exception form.

It allows voters to list a “reasonable impediment” as to why they don’t have an ID. Reasons include: The voter doesn’t have transportation; the voter lost or misplaced their ID; the voter has a disability.

The state Board of Elections removed “didn’t know photo ID was required” as a pre-listed option on the form, but Dickerson said Mecklenburg voters can still write that under “other.”

Those provisional ballots and exception forms are then reviewed by county election boards.

Dickerson said it requires a unanimous vote of the board to reject a provisional ballot cast by someone with an ID. That means Democrats and Republicans must agree.

I asked what would happen if someone wrote on their ID exception form that they weren’t providing an ID because they believed the law is unjust. Dickerson said that would likely result in the ballot being disqualified.

Voter ID sign
Steve Harrison
State law requires this sign be shown at all polling places.

Though there is flexibility in the photo ID law, there are two potential problems.

The first is whether people without IDs think they aren’t allowed to vote and then stay home. Will the Democratic Party — which has criticized photo ID — launch a campaign to educate voters before the 2024 election? Will the Board of Elections do the same?

(It also might be in the Republican Party’s interest to make sure its voters know they can vote without ID. After all, Donald Trump has brought thousands of new voters into the party.)

The second is whether poll workers encourage ID-less voters to fill out the reasonable impediment form — or whether they allow them to leave the polling place without casting a ballot.

State law, however, requires all polling places to show a sign telling people they can still vote without a photo ID.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.