THE NEW LITERACY TEST: NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW VOTER ID LAW

By: Nicole Little

DOWNTOWN DURHAM

When North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the Voter ID law, many argued that the bill intentionally attacked only the voting mechanisms used by primarily by voters of color, such as same day registration and early voting.This argument has been supported by research showing that voters of colors tend to vote Democratic and liberal, thus evincing a political motivation behind the passage of such law.

The bill was passed and signed two days shy of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which declared unconstitutional the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, a formula used to determine which states and political subdivisions to be subjected to Section 5 preclearance. Prior to Shelby, approximately 40 counties in North Carolina were subjected to federal preclearance.

By all estimates, the elderly, minorities, the poor and young adults aged 18 to 24 are the most likely not to have photo IDs. The Brennan Center estimates that 18 percent 25 percent of African-Americans don't have picture IDs. This means that roughly a quarter, 3.2 million, of African Americans do not possess a photo ID. One person deprived of the right to vote is one person too many.

The law requires that registered voters to present an acceptable form of photo identification to an election official in order to cast ballot. Acceptable forms of photo identification include:

(1) United States passport,

(2) North Carolina-issued driver’s license,

(3) Veterans ID card,

(4) United States Military ID card,

(5) Federal or state-issued tribal enrollment card, or

(6) Drivers license or non-operators identification card issued by another state (only if the voter registered to vote within ninety days of the election)

However, if a voter does not have an acceptable form of identification, the voter may request, or the county election official may provide, a “reasonable impediment” declaration form. This form is made available to voters who are unable to obtain an acceptable form of photo identification due a reasonable impediment. Reasonable impediments include, but are not limited to, lack of proper documents, lack of transportation, work schedule, illness or disability, and family obligations. Additionally, this form provides an “other” section for voters to indicate other reasons as to why they do not have the specified forms of identification. Once the form is completed, the voter must sign the declaration, and provide his or her birthdate, and last four digits of his or her Social Security number or present his or her current voter registration card or a copy of an acceptable document bearing his or her name and address (e.g. current utility bill, bank statement, or a government-issued document). In the event that the voter does not provide proper identification with his or her declaration form, the voter has up to nine days to return to the county board of elections and present the required identification.

Once this form is completed, the voter will be able to cast a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is ballot used to record one’s vote, and is not officially counted until questions about the given voter’s eligibility are answered. According to North Carolina law, the voter’s provisional ballot will be counted when the county board of elections verifies the information on the declaration, and all other eligibility requirements are met. However, a county board of election official may not count a voter’s provisional ballot under four circumstances. First, the provisional ballot may not be counted if the county board of elections has grounds to believe that the reasons listed on the declaration are factually false, criticizes the photo identification requirement, or are obviously non-sensical statements. Second, a provisional ballot may not be counted if the voter failed to include the last four digits of his or her Social Security number and date of birth, or his or her voter registration card, or other acceptable documents. Third, the county election official was unable to use the voter’s information to confirm the voter’s registration information. Lastly, if the voter is disqualified for some other reason by provided by law, his or her provisional ballot will not be counted.

“[I]f you never see me another time in your life, if I die in the morning, I’ll die saying one thing: the ballot or the bullet, the ballot or the bullet.” These words, spoken by the historic Malcolm X, encapsulate the importance of the right to vote in America. It is through our political process that we choose our leaders, our elected officials, who make decisions on our behalves daily. It is through our political process that we nominate leaders, who will shape our economy, promote our country’s basic values of life, liberty, and freedom, and protect our nation from hostile nations abroad. The right to vote is the most basic, yet immensely important, function of our democracy.

Moreover, it is helpful to remember that it was only fifty years agowhen Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in voting. However, prior to its passage, African Americans were deprived of the right to vote. Several states employed a series of measures, such as poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests, designed to be barriers to the ballot box for African Americans.

How did these measures keep African Americans from the ballot? Due to inequalities in education and pay wages between African Americans and Caucasians, African Americans were less likely to 1) make enough money to pay the required poll tax, or 2) be educated in a manner sufficiently to pass a literacy test. When you couple the deprivation of access to equal education and livable wages with the lack of access to the ballot, African Americans were systemically and intentionally shut out of the political process.

Even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans faced an upward battle in their quest to gain access to the ballot box. The rise of Ku Klux Klan brought on an era of voter intimidation and hate-motived violence, where Blacks were the subject of physical intimidation, murder, and psychological unrest. These were the prices paid for the cost of gaining a right that should have been afforded to all citizens. However, despite it is immense price tag, many who came before us made it their mission to see that we all enjoy the basic function of our democracy. The right to vote carries with it the blood, sweat, and tears of those who saw its true value—the ticket to sit at the table of equality.