North Carolina

NC Gov. Roy Cooper vetoes voter ID bill

Protesters oppose voter ID bill during legislative special session

NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
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NC NAACP President Rev. T. Anthony Spearman and Rev. William Barber led protesters at Bicentennial Plaza and into the gallery of the General Assembly during its special session on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would require voters to show a form of photo identification before voting in person, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.”

The bill passed this month largely along party lines. A handful of Democrats voted for it, and the bill passed with veto-proof margins in both the state House and Senate. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger said in separate statements that the legislature will override Cooper’s veto.

“We are disappointed that Gov. Cooper chose to ignore the will of the people and reject a commonsense election integrity measure that is common in most states, but the North Carolina House will override his veto as soon as possible,” Moore’s statement said.

Voter ID has been a years-long goal for Republicans. A 2013 law that included a photo ID requirement to vote was overturned by federal courts in 2016. The GOP moved to add photo ID to the state constitution this year, and the amendment passed with 55 percent of the vote.

In late November, Cooper said voter ID was “wrong for our state.”

A state elections board audit of votes in the 2016 general election found one case of in-person voter impersonation in the 4.8 million votes cast.

During debate on the bill, Republican legislators argued that suspected voter impersonation is under reported.

In his veto message, Cooper said the problem was not with voter impersonation, but “votes harvested illegally through absentee ballots, which this proposal fails to fix.”

The State Board of Elections is investigating mishandling of ballots in Bladen and Robeson counties and have twice refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District race where Republican Mark Harris received 905 more votes than Democrat Dan McCready. Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative who worked for Harris’ campaign consultant, is a person of interest in the investigation into ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting, or collecting absentee ballots from non-relatives, is illegal.

An affidavit from a Bladen County Republican recounted a conversation with Dowless about 800 ballots in his possession, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Dowless has denied any wrongdoing.

Moore, in his statement, said the legislature addressed absentee ballot fraud in the bill. The bill makes the State Board of Elections responsible for coming up with absentee ballot photo ID rules.

Voters without acceptable IDs would be able to cast ballots by asserting a “reasonable impediment,” Moore wrote.

In his veto message, Cooper said, “the proposed law puts up barriers to voting that will trap honest voters in confusion and discourage them with new rules, some of which haven’t even been written yet.

“Finally the fundamental flaw in the bill is its sinister and cynical origins: It was designed to suppress the rights of minority, poor and elderly voters. The cost of disenfranchising those voters or any citizens is too high, and the risk of taking away the fundamental right to vote is too great, for this law to take effect.”

Several groups, including the ACLU, Common Cause NC, and Equality NC, encouraged Cooper to veto the voter ID bill.

The Campus Vote Project of the Fair Elections Center, a voting rights group in Washington, D.C., asked Cooper this week to veto the bill because of the “absurd hurdles created” for colleges and universities that would want to provide students with IDs they could use at the polls.

“It is unlikely that any student IDs would be accepted for voting in the 2020 election,” the project’s national director wrote in a letter to Cooper.

Democracy NC, which opposes voter ID, praised Cooper for the veto.

In a statement, Democracy NC executive director Tomas Lopez said the bill appears to have biases that “could be used to discriminate against voters based on their race, income, age, gender and mobility.”

Acceptable IDs would include driver licenses, passports, university and community college IDs that meet state standards, military and veteran IDs, tribal enrollment cards, state ID cards issued to non-drivers, state and municipal employee IDs, and a new form of ID to be issued county elections boards.

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Lynn Bonner has worked at The News & Observer since 1994, and has written about the state legislature and politics since 1999. Contact her at lbonner@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4821.

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