RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers on Monday began examining the details of the latest voter photo identification proposal, a day before they return to work to fulfill a photo ID mandate that voters agreed this month to put in the state constitution.
A legislative committee reviewed draft legislation to implement the new voter ID constitutional amendment and heard comments from the public. The General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday for an expected two-week session, with the voter ID law expected to be the chief focus.
House and Senate Republican leaders want to pass the implementing law before the end of the year, after which they will no longer have enough votes to override vetoes of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper — a longtime photo ID opponent — because of Democratic gains on Election Day. GOP leaders contend they're obligated to approve one as quickly as possible and follow the wishes of the people. More than 54 percent of the voters approved the referendum.
"We want to make the bill make sense and make the bill work," said Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and committee co-chairman. "That's what this conversation is for."
Previous GOP-sponsored photo ID laws were derailed in recent years. Federal judges struck down a wide-ranging 2013 elections law containing photo ID because they declared it was created with racial bias in mind — a ruling that GOP leaders disagree with vehemently.
The draft bill adds two types of ID to the eight now authorized to be presented at early voting or on Election Day. They are new voter photo ID cards issued for free by county boards and student IDs issued by the University of North Carolina system's 17 schools. The head of the lobbying group for 36 private colleges and universities also asked Monday that their students' ID cards be added to the expanding list.
"We believe that the rigor of the student ID process at our colleges and universities should enable our student IDs to meet the voter ID requirement," said Hope Williams, president of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.
Several speakers supporting photo ID questioned whether adding more IDs will make it too complex for local election officials to determine which ID styles comply. Some legislators have expressed interest in including community college and local government IDs, too.
"We want to make sure that we prevent any type of voter fraud from occurring and keep it as easy as possible for our poll workers," said Charles Dingee, a citizen from Wake County. Other private citizens sounded suspicious about college students using their student IDs. Students, however, already are allowed to register and vote in the county where they attend school.
"Students come in, they live in our cities for a brief amount of time and they really are not true residents," said Gay Dillard, president of Greater Greensboro Republican Women's Club.
The draft would continue to allow people who face hardships obtaining IDs to get one for free, or still vote without one if they sign a "reasonable impediment" form. But those votes could still be challenged. Lewis said he expected an updated bill to be filed Tuesday based on the input.
Jenny Kotora-Lynch of Apex, a registered Democrat and longtime precinct worker, said the state must provide the money necessary to help poor and rural counties carry out their increased responsibilities under the law, or "embarrassing Election Day catastrophe will ensue." The law would take effect in time for the 2019 municipal elections.
Allison Riggs with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a lawyer who helped successfully sue to stop the 2013 law, said after the hearing there are still problems with the latest edition that makes it "ripe for litigation" unless they are addressed.
"It's a bad bill. It's a problematic bill," she said.
In the reconvened session, lawmakers also could consider more Hurricane Florence aid, address legal tangles with Cooper over several boards and commissions and debate economic development legislation, Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters.