Last Minute Changes to Voter ID Bill Would Undermine N.C. Voter Turnout Gains

Tonight, the N.C. Senate passed on 2nd reading a Committee Substitute for House Bill 589 that adds at least 7 new election law provisions to the bill, which originally was solely a voter photo ID bill.  The changes will, among other things, reduce the number of days in the early voting period and end same-day voter registration. 

The Center does not take a position on requiring a photo ID in order to vote because we have not done research on the issue.  However, the Center opposes the additional election law provisions because, as we found in our research in 1991 and 2003, early voting and same-day registration have worked to increase voter turnout and civic participation, because there is public support for these measures, and because the legislative process used to tack these provisions onto a moving bill is bad process and one we have criticized in reports over a 20-year period.

Click here to see the new version of House Bill 589.

Click here to see the version of House Bill 589 that passed the House.

The Legislative Process Used on This Bill Undermines Our Democracy

The Center has a long record of research on legislative process. Over more than 20 years, we have issued reports criticizing the Democratic Party leadership for inserting special provisions in budget bills, using blank bills to move legislation, and other questionable legislative practices.  Until July 23, House Bill 589 was solely a 16-page photo ID bill that had followed normal legislative process and was passed by the House on April 24th as a photo ID bill.  It had received no action by the Senate until July 23rd.

However, in the final days of the legislative session, it has been turned into an omnibus bill that contains significant changes in election laws that originally were in 7 other bills (HB 185, HB 451, HB 913, SB 82, SB 428, SB 666, and SB 721).  None of these bills had so much as been debated in any committee, been the subject of a public hearing, or been debated and voted on in either chamber.  To add these provisions in the last week of the legislative session is bad process, unfair to rank-and-file legislators who have not seen the new 56-page bill, and unfair to the public. 

During the recent debate on the proposed abortion law changes, Governor Pat McCrory warned Republicans about repeating the Democrats’ practice of violating good legislative process, saying, “When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business.  It was not right then, and it is not right now.  Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough.”

The Substance of the Added Provisions Would Undermine Gains N.C. Has Made in Voter Turnout

            The Center first published research on ways to increase voter turnout in 1991.  In 1988, our state was 48th in turnout among the 50 states in the U.S.  In the 1990s, the General Assembly enacted several of the Center’s recommendations to improve the voting and elections process, and by 2000, N.C. had moved up to rank 37th in voter participation.

            In 2003, the Center published a second study with research on what states with higher voter turnouts did that North Carolina didn’t do.  At that time, we recommended improving early voting and instituting same-day registration within the early voting period, and the General Assembly enacted those changes in 2007.  By 2008, we ranked 22nd in voter turnout, and 11th by 2012.  North Carolina also had the biggest percentage increase of voter turnout of any state in the country from 2004 to 2008.

            These measures were based on solid research on other states’ laws that increased voter participation, were passed by the General Assembly, and they worked.

Public Support for Early Voting and Other Provisions Now Proposed To Be Repealed or Modified

            There is broad support for early voting in North Carolina.  A recent poll by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Voter Education found that 85% of N.C. voters support early voting.  This includes 77% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats, and 87% of unaffiliated voters. 

            In a separate poll by Elon University, 59% of respondents oppose reducing the amount of time allowed for early voting in North Carolina vs. 30% who support the idea.  These results held constant across all demographic variables – gender, age, and income.

            Another poll by Public Policy Polling found that 78% support early voting, and 68% support having the option to vote a straight-party ticket, while 21% say straight ticket voting should not be an option. 

            Thus, while there is broad public support for the original purpose of HB 589 and requiring photo ID in order to vote (ranging from 62% to 75% in various polls), the Center knows of no polls showing support for the various voting measures added to House Bill 589 in the last-minute omnibus elections bill.

A Voice for Good Government and an Engaged Electorate

Based on our 22-year history of research on the successes of early voting, same-day registration, and other improvements in N.C. elections laws since 1991, and the resulting success of those measures in improving voter turnout from 48th among the 50 states in 1988 to 11th in 2012, the Center opposes the modification and repeal of such provisions in House Bill 589.

Based on our 20-year history of research on ways to improve the legislative process, which shows that such last-minute additions to other bills that are further along in the legislative process violate principles of notice to fellow rank-and-file legislators, notice to the public, and adequate time for deliberation and debate, the Center opposes the process by which new election law provisions were added to House Bill 589.