Fee for voter ID might be unconstitutional

Posted April 5, 2013
Updated April 6, 2013

— Some legal experts say charging people for photo identification cards in order to vote in North Carolina might violate the state constitution.

House Republican leaders unveiled their proposal Thursday for a voter ID law, and they plan to hold a public hearing on the legislation next Wednesday before beginning debate on it.

House Bill 589 would be one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. Unlike other states, those who need IDs would be expected to pay for them if they can.

"This amounts to a poll tax, and it must be challenged," said Bob Hall, executive director of voting rights group Democracy North Carolina.

Charging someone money to vote is a poll tax, which is outlawed by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Other states with voter ID laws offer free IDs to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay.

Under the North Carolina legislation, people would have to pay for the ID unless they're willing to swear under penalty of perjury – a felony offense – that they're too poor to pay for it.

"If they say they have financial hardship, the same penalties of perjury apply if they misrepresent that," Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, said Thursday.

The voter ID bill doesn't define financial hardship, and House Speaker Thom Tillis said he isn't sure how it would be policed.

N.C. constitution on free elections Does 'free election' mean free of cost?

"What we're simply saying is someone who comes in who is clearly able to pay for it, then they, like the people who come in and get a driver's license, should pay the cost," Tillis said Thursday.

Hall said the proposed financial hardship oath could scare off voters who might fear being challenged and potentially prosecuted for seeking a free ID.

"What is 'financial hardship'?" Hall asked. "It's a criminal penalty that you're putting yourself at risk of. I don't think people are going to do that."

The proposal could fall afoul of the state constitution, too. 

Section 10 of the North Carolina Constitution states "All elections shall be free." But Jeanette Doran, executive director of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, said that doesn't mean free of cost.

"That means free of intimidation or coercion. It's not free in terms of dollars-and-cents concept," Doran said.

Doran, who supports voter ID, said she does not support poll taxes, but added that, in its ruling on Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled that requiring a photo ID did not amount to a poll tax.

However, the ruling in the Indiana case (Crawford v Marion) does not address the question of charging voters for IDs. Actually, the fact that Indiana offers IDs at no cost is highlighted in the majority opinion as a key reason for its support for Indiana's law.

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr is also an expert on the state's constitution. He disagrees with Doran's interpretation of Section 10.

"It says, 'Elections shall be free, period,'" Orr said. "Essentially, that's not just monetarily free, but sort of a broad constitutional concept that there are not going to be impediments to people being able to vote."

Orr, Doran and Hall agree the court fight over voter ID will likely last for years – and state taxpayers will foot the bill for it.

"It's just crazy," Hall said. "It's millions and millions and millions of dollars for something that they haven't yet shown that there's a reason for government to spend money to do."


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  • totstroc Apr 12, 2013

    Tillis said elsewhere that this isn't even intended to decrease fraud, but instead to restore faith in government. As in, "You know that complete lack of faith you have in the ability of your state government to do pretty-much anything? That lack of faith that we bought and paid for with years of internecine squabbling and gross corruption and incompetence? Could we maybe make that all better by making voting day a little bit more like a TSA checkpoint?"

    Of course, here in North Carolina, the answer to that question would probably still be "yes" for at least the majority of the people. And that's why I think that my secessionist movement will continue to pick up steam, until the RTP area is free-and-clear of the deranged hinterlands. Join us: http://www.facebook.com/rtpnonc

  • junkmail5 Apr 8, 2013

    If Obama can force US citizens to buy health insurance by calling it a tax, then NC can force people to buy ID by calling it a tax -lessismore

    Virtually everything above is wrong.

    First- you're NOT forced to buy health insurance. You can go entirely without it, and simply pay more in taxes.

    Second- that's not touching any constitutional right at all (at the state or federal level) while voting is.

    Third- no, they can NOT force you to pay a tax to vote. That's EXPLICITLY against the US Constitution. It's such a big deal we specifically added an amendment to forbid doing it.

  • junkmail5 Apr 8, 2013

    So, should the government provide me a free ID card when I'm asked to show an ID card during the purchase of a gun? Besides, it is my constitutional right to possess a weapon.
    Proud Black Constitutionalist

    Yes it is.

    It's NOT your constitutional right to be able to buy one commercially though.

    You can make your own (it's actually quite easy) and that requires NO ID WHATSOEVER.

    No person is being taxed or charged to vote.- lessismore

    Except, they are, because you can't vote without an ID they're charging most people for. That's the definition of a poll tax.

    The Constitution gives one the right to vote, but not the absolute right, does it not leave it up to each State to set the guidelines for voting. Each State is different. People should read about things before they speak.

    Yes, you should. The NC constitution for example, which makes the right to vote quite clear for those in the state. No ID needed!

    (and states still can't violate the poll tax thing)

  • junkmail5 Apr 8, 2013

    Rather than all this, how about using a computerized fingerprint system? -chfdcpt

    That would require fingerprinting virtually every adult in the state.

    Apart from being costly (and again it'd have to be "free" to voters, meaning millions from taxes to pay for it) you'd have privacy folks going nuts over the very idea of the database that'd create.

    sherrifs dept gets $10 for fingerprinting- times millions of voters... that's a huge pile of cash.

    Again, to fix an imaginary problem.

  • junkmail5 Apr 8, 2013

    People have an ID. -superman

    Except, they don't.

    This was already proven by cross-checking DMV versus voter records.

    Roughly 10% of the voters don't have one.

    goldenosprey.....if voter fraud did not exist there would be no need to fix it.- lessismore


    And since it doesn't, and you can tell because even Tillis admitted that, and the GOP has been unable to find any even when they went looking for it, there IS NO NEED TO FIX IT, per your own words.

    So why are you still in favor of wasting money to fix a problem that does not exist?

  • chfdcpt Apr 8, 2013

    Rather than all this, how about using a computerized fingerprint system? That way, when you show up at the poll, you put your finger in the scanner, and it tells the poll worker who you are. Then, once it is told that you voted, it locks you out of the system for the day. No one can use your name to vote somewhere else.

  • superman Apr 8, 2013

    People have an ID. They just blowing in the wind. Trying to make something simple into something more complicated. If they get to the polls and are told they need an ID-they will have one in 30 seconds. Just because you dont have personal knowlege of voter fraud doesnt mean it isnt happening. I dont have personal knowledge of the poor people in Africa who are sick and dying.

  • goldenosprey Apr 8, 2013

    less, quit lying about what I posted. There is much potential for fraud in absentee ballots and that should be addressed. Voter ID as it is written prevents little if any fraud and is vastly outweighed by expense to the taxpayers and hardship on voters' constitutional rights.

    Why do rightwingers always protect corruption when it favors their agenda?

  • lessismore Apr 8, 2013

    goldenosprey....why are you protecting corruption in our elections? Why do liberals always protect corruption? And yes, even you admitted in an earlier post that there was corruption in our elections, just not enough to worry about.

  • goldenosprey Apr 8, 2013

    "We are in desperate need of voter ID. " Danny22

    Desperate, are we? Who is "we"? Republicans?

    Since voter ID will do almost zero about election fraud, certainly "we" as voters or the residents of the state do not "need" it.

    What are you doing about fraud in absentee ballots, Mr. Tillis? Still hearing crickets from the right on that.

    Where are the jobs, Mr. Tillis?