NC’s new photo ID requirement could cause confusion in the 2024 election | Opinion

Author: Ned Barnett - The News & Observer

During a Feb. 3 North Carolina Supreme Court hearing, a lawyer referred to how Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rejected gerrymandered voting district maps because they did not comply with that state’s constitutional guarantee of “free and equal” elections.

But Chief Justice Paul Newby, leader of the North Carolina’s court’s new 5-2 Republican majority, noted that there was a difference between the Pennsylvania and North Carolina constitutions. Misquoting the Pennsylvania constitution, Newby said: “We have ‘free.’ We don’t have ‘fair.’ They have ‘free and fair, correct?”

There you have it from the state’s top jurist: He thinks North Carolina’s governing document is silent about whether elections have to be fair.

Given that perspective, it’s not surprising that Newby’s court promptly reversed rulings by the previous court’s 4-3 Democratic majority. The reversals give the Republican-controlled General Assembly wide latitude to gerrymander voting district maps and upheld a voter photo ID law that the previous court had rejected as racially discriminatory.

Since Democrats will have to boost their turnout to overcome gerrymandered districts, anything that suppresses voters who generally vote Democratic gives Republican lawmakers a stronger defense against being ousted.

The voter ID requirement will be in effect for this year’s municipal elections, but the real test of how it affects turnout will be in the 2024 general election.

Republican state lawmakers say the voter photo ID requirement is about preventing fraud and building confidence in the election process. But since fraud involving impersonating another voter is exceedingly rare – and already a felony – opponents think that requiring a valid photo ID to vote is really just about winnowing votes for Democrats.

Whether it will do that is unclear. A study in states that have introduced the photo ID requirement found effects ranging from slight to none. In some cases, passage of a voter ID law has motivated Democrats to make more voters eligible and Democratic turnout has actually increased.

The latest study, led by Notre Dame political scientist Jeffrey Harden, and published Feb. 6 in PNAS, a journal of the National Academy of Sciences.  Harden, who conducted the study along with graduate student Alejandra Campos, said the research found little immediate reduction in turnout.  “When you zoom out it doesn’t look like it has a huge effect, but that is because Democrats are working so hard to rebuild the baseline conditions by getting people the IDs they need,” Harden told me.

The strict photo ID requirement could take a toll if Democrats and their affiliated groups don’t keep pushing to get IDs to voters, he said. “If those groups let off the gas or run out of money, maybe you’ll see an effect on turnout,” he said.

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Originally published by Ned Barnett - The News & Observer at on May 22, 2023.