File photo by Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

Voters not required to show ID until 2016

This year saw major changes to North Carolina’s elections law, with the final bill taking up 57 pages. Its various provisions are wide-ranging, setting new standards for voter identification, making it easier to mount voting challenges, trimming the number of days off the early voting period and eliminating same-day registration, straight-ticket options and initiatives to increase registration among young, first-time voters.

While the controversy over what is arguably one of the biggest rewrites of voting rules in the country simmers and legal challenges proceed, the various changes under the new law will begin taking effect over the course of the next two election cycles.

A recent survey of registered voters during an Elon University Poll found that for most, the law was still closely associated with its sections on voter identification. The poll, conducted in mid-September, found 70 percent of respondents supported the idea of voters showing a photo identification, a percentage that has held steady through several polling cycles on the issue.

But the poll found evidence that arguments that the identification provisions are too stringent and will have disproportionate impact on minority and younger voters are starting to resonate.

“Support for a voter ID law has been broad and deep, consistently ranging in the 70 percent or higher across multiple surveys,” Assistant Professor Kenneth Fernandez, director of the poll said in a release. “But this was the first time that the Elon Poll found a majority of Democrats and a majority of African Americans opposing voter identification requirements.”

Other parts of the bill are clearly not as popular. When asked about shortening days for early voting, only 38 percent of respondents approved the measure and 51 percent opposed it.

Brent Laurenz, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, said one of the most confusing aspects of the bill is that different rules take effect during different election cycles.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to stress for 2013 is that elections are going on as before,” he said. “There’s no photo ID required, early voting is still the same and same-day registration is unaffected this year.”

After this year, he said, big changes start to kick in. Starting in 2014, the early voting period drops and straight-ticket voting and same-day registration end. Following those changes, the next big milestone is the requirement for a photo ID starts in 2016.

The final version of the elections bill followed a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended requirements that election changes in North Carolina and other states with a history of discriminatory practices be pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. Revisions to the bill after the ruling narrowed the list of acceptable identification, eliminating student identification cards.

Laurenz said delaying the start of the provision until 2016 will at least give voters a head start in obtaining one if they need to. Voters who can’t afford one can begin applying for free ID cards at state drivers license branches in January, 2014.

“There’s been a lot of confusion about the timing of it,” he said. “In the end, it’s a good thing it won’t start until 2016. Hopefully that gives voters enough time to get their ID. In the meantime, we don’t want people to stay away from the polls, thinking they need one now.”

Key dates in North Carolina voting rule changes

Sept. 1, 2013 — Pre-registration for 16 and 17-year olds ends.

Jan. 1, 2014 — Voters can obtain a free ID at state Division of Motor Vehicle offices; early voting period drops from 17 to 10 days; same-day registration is eliminated; absentee ballots will require identification numbers; straight-ticket voting ends; additional poll observers will be permitted and the ability to challenge voters increased; and county boards of elections will lose the power to extend polling hours in extraordinary circumstances.

Jan. 1, 2016 — All voters will be required to show a government-issued photo identification that is either a North Carolina driver’s license, state-issued ID card, United States passport, military or veteran’s identification, tribal identification or an out-of-state driver’s license (if registration was within 90 days of the election). Also in 2016, if South Carolina moves its presidential primary to March 15, North Carolina will begin holding its primary on the first Tuesday after that date.

Jan. 1, 2018 — The state will eliminate touch-screen voting machines that do not produce paper copies, and all elections in the state will require paper ballots.

Source: North Carolina Center for Voter Education

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Kirk Ross was the former capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. To contact the Carolina Public Press newsroom, email

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