By Jesse Wood
Yesterday, officials with the State Board of Elections held one of the nine public hearings across the state on the new Voter ID law that the N.C. General Assembly passed last year to hear citizen comments on the new rules associated with the law.
About 20 people spoke at the public hearing, which was held on Wednesday at the Watauga County Administration Building in Boone, and all of the speakers had criticisms of the Voter Information Verification Act, which requires photo identification for in-person voting starting 2016.
Those speaking at the hearing included a number of local citizens, transgender and other students at Appalachian State University and several members of the left-leaning Democracy NC. All speaking criticized the law or suggested tweaks to the law in some form or fashion.
Maggie McFadden, a Democrat from Boone, noted that she’s been a voter in the county since 1985. Speaking briefly, her main point that she said she wanted to make was that students should be allowed to use their university- or college-issued IDs if they are registered to vote in the same county as they go to school.
“This card is used everywhere in town as evidence of identity,” McFadden said.
As the law stands, N.C. driver’s license, learner’s permits or provisional licenses; a special non-operator ID card issued by the NC DMV; a U.S. passport; U.S. military ID card; U.S. Veterans ID card issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs; a tribal enrollment card issued by federally-recognized tribe; and an out-of-state driver’s license or non-operator ID card (if the voter registration date in the county is within 90 days of the election). These cards – except for certain exceptions, for example, if you are older than 70 – must be unexpired.
Virginia Marshall, a senior at Appalachian State University and a member of TransAction, a group of the App State community that identifies as transgender, said the group has “obvious concerns” with the subjective reasonable resemblance provision in the law.
Marshall said that folks who identify as transgender could be going through a transition from either a man to a woman or a woman to a man during the time between getting an ID and using that ID to vote.
“It takes years to go through that decision and if you go to vote and don’t appear to be the gender listed on your license, you could be turned away,” Marshall said.
She also added that there were safety concerns and the possibility of being fired from their jobs for some people if they were publicly “outed” as transgender by the people working the polls.
Jennifer Teague of Boone said that creating barriers to the voting process that makes it more difficult for certain groups of the population to vote goes against the principles of the nation.
“We really need more people to participate in democracy and decision making,” Teague said, adding that its “wrong” to add another hurdle especially when voter turnout is low as it is.
While people without an ID are eligible to get a free ID issued from the N.C. DMV, some people at the hearing talked about the difficulty of folks without transportation – such as students without a car or the elderly no longer driving – being able to make it out to the DMV, especially in a rural area, such as Boone, where the local DMV isn’t on the public transportation route.
Josh Brannon, a local Democrat, who ran against U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx in the prior election, expressed concern about the subjectivity of a poll worker deciding if a name on the registration card and a name on that person’s ID card are “substantially equivalent.”
Brannon said that examples sited in the law – such as Sue v. Susanne and Bill v. William – were for the most part “Anglo-Saxon, Protestant centric.” He suggested adding more examples that would representative of a diverse community.
View the entire rules here.
People who couldn’t make it to the public hearing are invited to submit written comments to the State Board of Elections via email ([email protected]) or mail (PO Box 27255, Raleigh, NC 27611-7255, to the attention of Rule-making Coordinator).
The public comment period closes June 30.
For more information on photo ID required to vote at the polls in 2016, visit voterID.nc.gov.
The State Board’s voter outreach team is available to make informational presentations and to assist voters in obtaining a free ID from the DMV. They can be reached at 1-866-522-4723 or [email protected]