Shalea Brown, 20, is a registered North Carolina voter and works at a mall in Raleigh. Brown said she knew there was talk about a voter identification requirement, but she had no idea it would be enforced in the upcoming local elections.
“If I had such a hard time getting a state-issued ID as a Black, lower-middle income person, then somebody who is less fortunate than me is going to have an even harder time getting it, and that shouldn’t mean that they aren’t able to vote,” Brown said. While she does not have a valid driver’s license, she does have a state-issued nondriver ID that was difficult to get.
She had lost her Social Security card, which made it challenging to get the state-issued ID. “I had to go through all these channels to make a new Social Security card, go to my doctors to get documents from them, get everything notarized and took two trips to my local North Carolina Division of (Motor Vehicles),” she said. “I couldn’t get an ID until I had all of this.”
Brown said that she could easily have found herself in a situation at the polls this year where she wouldn’t have been able to vote if she didn’t get a state ID.
“People who have a form of ID are very lucky, especially if they didn’t have to struggle to get it,” Brown said.
Starting in August, when early voting for municipal elections begins, North Carolina voters must show a valid photo ID at the polls to vote. Experts and voting rights organizations are concerned that this requirement could have a bigger impact on voters of color, possibly preventing them from voting.
“This is absolutely an anti-Black, anti-brown requirement to our voting process,” said Jovita Lee, the program director at North Carolina Black Alliance, a Raleigh-based nonprofit group that works with state and local partners on policy issues, including voting rights.
The new requirement is part of a larger trend of voter suppression efforts in North Carolina, sources state. These efforts are often aimed at making it more difficult for minority voters to vote, and they have been criticized by civil rights groups, according to experts and nonprofit voting organizations in the state.
Black and brown voters are less likely to possess any of the acceptable voting IDs, said Kathleen Roblez, the senior voting rights counsel and litigation manager at Forward Justice, a Durham-based nonprofit organization.
Approximately 7% of registered voters, or more than 480,000 voters, lack an acceptable voter ID, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Durham-based nonprofit group that partners with communities of color in the South and provides them with legal representation. The group filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2018 voter ID law.
The new voter ID requirement stems from the N.C. Supreme Court’s April reversal of its decision in Holmes v. Moore. The court had previously declared the photo ID requirement unconstitutional, citing a violation of the equal protection guarantee in the state’s constitution. Under the new requirement, voters must possess a valid, approved photo ID to vote. People who don’t have a valid photo ID would have to take additional steps to get one.
“Justice Morgan and I dissented from the court’s decision to rehear the voter ID case, and I continue to believe that the court correctly decided the case the first time around,” said Justice Anita Earls, who serves on the state Supreme Court.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right, preservative of all other rights. If the right to vote is undermined, it renders illusory all ‘other rights, even the most basic,’” she wrote for the majority in the 89-page ruling on the 2018 voter ID law.
North Carolina’s new voter ID requirement, which is set to be enforced in August, has been criticized by voting rights advocates who say it will disproportionately disenfranchise Black and Latino voters. They also argue that the requirement is unnecessary, as there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina.
While Republican leaders say voter ID requirements will help prevent voter fraud, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that voter fraud is a widespread problem in the state.
Grassroots organizations are working quickly to get voters involved and help in getting a voter ID. They are also telling voters to contact their state and county elections boards to request a free photo ID.
History of voter disenfranchisement measures
The 2013 law resulted in lower voter turnout among Black and brown communities in the 2016 primary election due to voter ID requirements. Later, a federal court ruled the requirement discriminatory and in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The court found that the law was intentionally designed to discriminate against minority voters and that there was no significant evidence of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina. Although North Carolina appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court chose not to hear the case.
North Carolina’s history of restrictions includes voter disenfranchisement measures like literacy tests, poll taxes and redistricting. The poll tax requirement ended in 1920, and the literacy tests were banned in 1965. But for most of North Carolina’s voting history, North Carolinians have not been required to present a photo ID to vote, except for a single election, in 2016.
The state passed two voter ID laws in 2013 and 2018.
The second voter ID law was passed in 2018 and was also challenged in court and struck down in 2021 by the N.C. Supreme Court, which found that the law was racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 2018 photo ID law case in North Carolina was a significant victory for civil rights groups.
But now the requirement has been brought back to be enforced, as North Carolina joins 35 other states that require photo IDs to vote. Recent studies suggest that people of color who want to vote may face more challenges because of the voter ID requirement.
Black voters in particular are 1.4 times more likely than white voters to lack a qualifying ID, according to a study conducted by Kevin Quinn, a professor of political science and statistics at the University of Michigan. Quinn matched records from the North Carolina registration file with individual records from ID providers, such as the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, public and private university and college systems, community colleges, and state agencies.
The voter ID requirement disproportionately affects minority groups compared with white voters, according to Roblez. Obtaining a valid voter ID can be particularly difficult for voters of color who lack transportation, financial resources or internet access, he said. These additional steps create barriers for voters who may not have the time or resources to obtain the necessary ID.
Andrea Benjamin, a professor of political science and African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma who has researched the implications of the voter ID requirement in North Carolina, agrees. She said that while a no-fee voter ID can be helpful, as an additional alternative, it still poses a barrier for voters of color.
“IDs are not a constitutional right, but voting is, and the Constitution does not say we have to go through all these hoops to vote,” Benjamin said.
The voter ID requirement is similar to voting restrictions in the past, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, that also prevented Black and brown people from voting in North Carolina, she said.
During the 2016 primary election, a Black female voter, Alberta Curry, a resident of Fayetteville, challenged the voter ID law in state court. Curry was represented by Justice Anita Earls when Earls was still a practicing attorney.
Curry did not have an ID, and while she wanted to get one, she didn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home, according to Earls. Under the first voter ID law of 2013, Curry could have voted as an absentee without an ID, but she wanted to vote in person.
“At the polls, she was supposed to be offered a form to fill out why she didn’t have an ID but instead she was just turned away and couldn’t vote.” Earls said.
“If there isn’t a will to make sure that everyone who’s otherwise registered and a citizen meets all the qualifications for voting, the voter ID requirement can be a barrier,” she said.
What qualifies as a voter ID
For many voters, a valid North Carolina driver’s license will qualify as a voter ID. Voters who do not have a photo ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but they will have to provide proof of identification within 10 days for their vote to be counted
But those who lack a driver’s license or proof of identification will have to take additional steps to present other forms of approved IDs to either vote in person or as an absentee, through mail-in voting.
Apart from a valid state driver’s license, acceptable forms of photo IDs for voting in North Carolina include:
- No-fee state ID from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles.
- A North Carolina voter photo ID card issued by a county board of elections.
- A driver’s license or a state ID from another state for voters registered in North Carolina within 90 days of the election.
- A U.S. passport or passport card.
- A state-approved college or university student ID.
- A state-approved state or local government or charter school employee ID.
These IDs must either be unexpired or expired for one year or less to be accepted, according to the State Board of Elections.
To obtain a free state ID from the NCDMV, voters have to provide several documents to verify their age and identity: a Social Security card or a document proving they have a Social Security number and a document proving residency, such as a utility bill, school records or a financial statement.
The State Board of Elections said that voters can soon get a voter ID from county boards of elections, but there is no clear information on the process to get one. With one more month until early voting begins for the municipal elections, it is uncertain how to obtain an ID from county boards of elections.
A racial voting barrier
In the past two decades, North Carolina’s population has seen a growing number of Black and brown residents, resulting in a changing demographic of eligible voters.
The population of individuals identifying as multiracial has more than doubled, growing by 161%, or 251,094 people, according to a 2020 report on the census from Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill.
The report shows that the fastest-growing group in the state was the population of some other race at 207%. This group is followed by the multiracial population (161%), Asian (65%), Hispanic (40%), Islander (33%) and Black (4.3%). Approximately 60% of North Carolinians identified as white.
There are sizable Black populations in urban areas. But half of the population is in eight, largely rural counties, according to Carolina Demography’s study of the state’s Black population: Bertie, Hertford, Northampton, Edgecombe, Halifax, Warren and Vance. Six of these counties are majority Black in population, the study showed.
Nonpartisan academic experts argue that this requirement is racially motivated, aimed at hindering voting access due to the changing demographics.
“North Carolina is becoming more and more Black and brown,” said Zaphon Wilson, the chair of the department of public administration at N.C. Central University in Durham.
“If the majority of folks have easy access to voting, the political dynamic will change, and it has changed before in Barack Obama’s first election in 2008, when the state went from red to purple,” he said.
This is a movement by the Republican Party to limit voter access in North Carolina and other states in the South, Wilson said.
“The voter ID requirement is racially motivated, intentionally motivated and strategically motivated,” said Danielle Brown, the deputy national field director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a national voting rights and advocacy organization that is partnered with communities in more than 25 states.
Jeff Loperfido, the interim chief counsel for voting rights at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, agreed that the voter ID requirement is racially motivated. He stated that his organization proved this during the trial on the constitutionality of the 2018 voter ID law.
“It is a direct response to the increased political power of Black and brown voters,” Loperfido said. “This has been a historical pattern in North Carolina, where gains are made by Black and brown voters and then those who hold power respond to that.”
Voter fraud isn’t widespread
Conservative leaders supporting stricter voting laws argue that the new voter ID requirement will reduce voter fraud. But experts assert that voter fraud is extremely rare and claim that these additional measures create barriers for minority participation in the electoral process.
“Out of all the activities where an ID is required, why is it that Democrats only take issue with having to show an ID to vote,” said New Hanover County’s Republican chairman, Nevin Carr III, in an interview this month. “Is it just a coincidence that Democrats always seem to benefit when election systems are less secure?
“Today, the Democrat Party continues to look for ways to undermine the integrity of our election system,” he said.
In April, Tim Moore, the N.C. House speaker, stated that the objective is to make it "easy to vote but hard to cheat."
But studies show that voter fraud is not widespread in North Carolina.
Between 2000 and 2012, North Carolina had a total of 15 alleged voter fraud cases, as revealed by an analysis by News21 at Arizona State University. Out of these cases, six involved instances of double voting, two involved voting by individuals with felony convictions or former felons who lacked voting rights, five involved the use of fictitious addresses, one involved a noncitizen casting a vote and one case lacked sufficient evidence to substantiate the claim of voter fraud.
“It’s not like we are at 100% turnout during elections for voter fraud to be a widespread issue; we’re probably sitting at 50% right now,” said Benjamin. “Voter fraud is not actually a problem to be solved right now, and that’s why it seems like the voter ID requirement is simply a barrier.”
Others say the U.S. has a safe voting system and voter suppression methods, such as the photo ID requirement, limit the political power of Black and brown people. .
“We have one of the safest voting systems in the world,” Wilson said. “There are forces fighting to maintain and expand control over the last four-five years and the whole notion has been to suppress voting across the board,” he said.
Some conservative leaders are using voter suppression methods under the guise of integrity, Wilson said.
ID requirement unknown, limited outreach funds
Many North Carolina voters aren’t even aware that voter IDs will be required this year or how to get one, according to nonprofit and grassroots organizations in the state.
“Is that for real? Do we actually need a voter ID to cast our ballots this year?” asked Anthony Williams, 67, a retired resident of Raleigh. Williams has a valid driver’s license, but like eight other voters of color the Carolina Public Press interviewed, he was not aware of the new requirement.
“It is going to slow people down from getting to the polls and give them reasons not to vote,” he said. “This makes it hard for people who can’t afford an ID.”
Carolina Public Press contacted nonprofits to connect with voters lacking a driver's license under the new voter ID requirement, but many voters declined to be interviewed.
There are education gaps around this new requirement, and so even if voters have the proper form of identification, it doesn’t mean that they know voter IDs are required, said Lee, the program director at North Carolina Black Alliance.
“Many people were unaware of the fact that voter IDs will be required during the upcoming elections, and there were people who didn’t even know that the rule was coming back into play,” Lee said. This month, the North Carolina Black Alliance ran a program in honor of Juneteenth and went across specific regions in the state to release voter ID resources.
The Black Voters Matter Fund also put together and distributed more than 5,000 copies of a resource guide on the new voter ID requirement to the communities it serves, Brown said.
“Everyday people do not know that this is going into effect, and so we are now in rapid response mode to let folks know what they need to be able to vote,” she said.
One of the reasons many voters are unaware of the new voter ID requirement is the lack of outreach from state and local agencies to inform voters about the new rule before elections, according to Loperfido and Brown.
The State Board of Elections does not have the funding for advertising or significant voter outreach but is hopeful that the state budget will include some funding for these efforts, said NCSBE spokesperson Patrick Gannon.
Earlier this month, the board requested $6.5 million from the legislature to fund the outreach efforts and train poll workers. The funding is still being negotiated, but the Senate’s budget offers no additional funding and will cut the board staff by two.
There’s a new voting requirement, but a lack of funding to support it and because of that, it falls on grassroots organizers to try to ensure that their communities have the resources they need, Brown said.
“Once again, we are the ones on the ground doing the work of the state,” she said, “and that’s a problem.”
Voters and the election administration, such as poll workers, all require time to adapt to the new rule.
The state’s ID approval process has not been finalized yet, the county boards of elections don’t have the equipment to issue voter IDs, and the election administration is not prepared yet either, Loperfido said.
“This time frame before elections is not sufficient,” he said. “It is putting a lot of stress on the system.”
10 facts about North Carolina’s new voter ID requirement - The State Board of Elections
Criteria for acceptable or approved voter IDs - The State Board of Elections
How to get a no-fee, state ID from the NC DMV to vote - North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly set out the new requirement for voting. Voters must possess a valid, approved photo ID to vote.
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