Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Members of the General Assembly will work off some of their Thanksgiving calories this week by returning to session in Raleigh, perhaps (we can only hope) for the last time this year. You may hear them passing overhead on their way to the Legislative Building in a chorus of flapping and quacking that only a flock of lame ducks could produce.
The lawmakers had planned to hold this session for two key reasons: to devise the rules and regulations for voter ID, if the constitutional amendment requiring it passed (it did) and to take another look at Hurricane Florence recovery needs and set loose another round of funding for cities and counties affected by the hurricane and its massive flooding.
It will be our excellent fortune if our legislators stick to that fairly spare but important agenda and don’t wander off into the weeds of mischief. This is likely to be the last legislative session in which Republicans hold a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate and we’re hoping legislative leaders can resist the temptation for one or two final slam-dunks in Gov. Roy Cooper’s face. Come January, with more Democrats in both chambers, veto overrides will require Democratic votes to accomplish, which creates at least the possibility of bipartisan discussion, if not cooperation.
We hope our lawmakers succeed in not only disbursing more recovery funds, but in also breaking some bureaucratic logjams that have held up distribution of federal funds to hurricane victims. Some people flooded out by Hurricane Matthew, more than two years ago, are still awaiting federal buyout funds for their destroyed homes. Lawmakers and state officials have taken steps to get funding to victims faster, and this would be a good time for some legislative pulse-taking to see if things are improving.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the General Assembly last week unveiled their initial drafts of voter ID legislation, and it appears to be an improvement over the last attempted ID regulations. Each local board of elections would provide free IDs and be given the equipment to produce them. University of North Carolina system IDs would also be accepted at polling places — they weren’t in the General Assembly’s last attempt at voter ID, which was part of an electoral reform package that federal courts found unconstitutional.
The draft legislation also would allow voters to use a North Carolina driver’s license, DMV ID cards for non-drivers, U.S. passports, the new N.C. voter ID cards authorized by this legislation, tribal ID cards issued by federal or state-recognized tribes, UNC student IDs and drivers licenses or IDs from another state, if the voter had registered within 90 days of the election. The bill also would accept military and veterans ID cards. The law would recognize any of those cards if they’re expired, if they’re held be someone at least 70 years old.
The legislation also allows for provisional votes to be cast by people without IDs if they can claim a “reasonable impediment” to having a photo ID. Those voters would also need to fill out a sworn affidavit.
Some longtime opponents to voter ID have already objected to the new regulations, saying they still allow the possibility of qualified voters losing their right to vote. We hope lawmakers will take those problems seriously and work to ensure that every qualified North Carolinian has the opportunity to vote. We’d also like to see an outreach program for the first few years of the ID requirement, to get word to all residents about the new law and help provide the IDs to people who need them. This is a big change and it will disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly and the disabled, a population that already has enough obstacles to regular voting.
And once the rules are written and the Florence money dispensed, we hope the legislature will adjourn until next year. The voters spoke in a loud voice on Election Day, telling lawmakers they were fed up with power politics that rammed through legislation over opponents’ objections, with little or no debate or public discussion. It’s time for that unfortunate era to end.