Our Opinion: Needless voter restrictions sabotaged ID requirement

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If North Carolina lawmakers want voter identification requirements, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away the state’s appeal of a Fourth Circuit ruling that struck down parts of the Voter Information Verification Act. By declining to hear the case, the high court allowed the Fourth Circuit ruling to stand, exhausting the General Assembly’s avenues for appeal.

Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said they’d work toward a new voter ID law. They are likely to be successful if they throw their weight behind a clean bill to require photo ID at the polls and avoid needless restrictions on voter registration and early voting that made the 2013 legislation suspect.

The Fourth Circuit panel wrote that, taken together, five prongs of the Voter Information Verification Act including the ID requirement “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Since 2010, statewide polls have shown widespread support for voter ID measures. Thirty out of fifty states require poll workers to check voters’ ID before allowing them to cast a ballot.

While voter ID remains controversial — opponents say it reduces turnout among minorities and the poor and elderly who are less likely to have driver licenses, passports and other common forms of ID — it can be implemented in a lawful way.

It’s the other provisions of the 2013 law that were probably responsible for the appellate court defeat.

VIVA reduced the period for one-stop early voting to 10 days when it had previously been 17 days. It eliminated same-day registration and voting, prevented teenagers from being able to register to vote at school before their 18th birthdays and stopped elections boards from counting votes that were mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct.

Republican legislative leaders can make a coherent case for voter ID. We find the other restrictions on voting to be wholly indefensible.

Early voting provides more options to adults who may not be able to take time away from work or school in order to exercise their constitutional right. The Fourth Circuit found that the seven-day reduction eliminated one of two Sundays when predominantly black churches provided transportation to voting offices in “souls to the polls” events.

Allowing teens to register early encourages participation and gets young people involved in the democratic process. We can’t think of a good reason, or any reason at all, to take that option away.

Folks are accustomed to crisscrossing the communities in which they live to attend work, school and church. Increasingly, people do not identify with their voting precincts, and some may mistakenly show up at the wrong polling place on Election Day. So long as their votes can be tabulated for the correct precinct, we think counting them is simply the right thing to do.

Our state and local governments should be in the business of both guarding against voter fraud and making the voting process as simple and easy as possible.

Checking photo ID accomplishes the first objective. Abandoning needless restrictions on registration, voting days and provisional ballots would accomplish the second.