The North Carolina Senate on Thursday rolled out its voter identification bill, scaling back the number of acceptable photo IDs to cast a ballot in person starting in 2016 and could make it more difficult for young people to vote.
The bill sets out seven qualifying forms of photo ID. But they do not include university-issued IDs, like the House allowed for University of North Carolina system and community college students when it passed a bill three months ago.
The Senate also removed from its list those cards issued by local governments, for police, firefighters and other first responders, and for people receiving government assistance. Someone who doesn't present an approved ID could cast a provisional ballot, but would have to return to an elections office with an ID for the vote to count.
"We have tweaked it, tightened (it) up some with the particular IDs that will be accepted," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which neither debated nor voted on the measure Thursday.
Potential voters would still be able to get special state identification cards through the Division of Motor Vehicles The cards would be still free for people at least 70 years old, the blind, homeless and people already registered to vote but don't have an acceptable ID. People could use an expired ID card if it was valid when the person was at least 70, too.
"We're willing to pay to get everybody a legitimate ID without them having to pay for it," Apodaca told reporters.
Democrats and allied groups say a photo ID requirement is unnecessary because current voter fraud laws are strong and there's nothing to indicate that widespread deceit is occurring. They say the mandate would needlessly harm the right to vote among young people, women and minority groups - voting blocs that commonly side with Democrats.
The Senate version of the bill is more onerous than the House edition, said Bob Hall, executive director of election watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. The House version also accepted similar IDs from other states that are no more than 10 years old. Out-of-state driver's licenses, which college students have, also wouldn't be acceptable in the Senate version if the voter had registered more than 90 days before an election.
The students are going to get double-whammied," Hall said, adding that "you cut out any student ID and any government documents and limit it as narrowly as it does - then it becomes a harsher bill."
Apodaca said the bill would be debated next week as the General Assembly seeks to wrap up this year's only scheduled work session. He said voter ID legislation will get passed before adjournment.
House and Senate Republicans have made passing a photo ID mandate one of their priorities this year. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is also on board with the idea. He'd be asked to sign any bill into law. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month means North Carolina wouldn't have to get federal attorneys or a U.S. court to sign off on the changes before they could be enforced.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, which shepherded the House version of the bill through the chamber this spring, said there are some differences but is confident they'll create a final product.
"Both chambers remain committed to every person who's eligible to vote being able to vote and participate in the process freely," Lewis said. "It's all about continuing to improve the confidence in elections."
The Senate version of the measure would require county boards of elections to send "multipartisan" teams to nursing homes to assist their residents with voting. Apodaca said Senate leaders also want to ensure other people with disabilities can vote.
The Senate bill does direct the State Board of Elections to educate the public on the photo ID requirement but deletes a House provision creating an advisory board to help with the effort. The bill would direct poll workers starting with the May 2014 primary to ask voters if they have a qualifying ID, but they could still vote without one until January 2016.
People seeking absentee ballots by mail would have to provide more identifying information in their requests, but not include any photo identification.
The House bill was projected to cost $3.7 million to carry out. Apodaca didn't have a price tag on the Senate version Thursday.