This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Lynn Bonner

Pamela Pearson knows that getting a photo ID for some people isn’t as easy as heading to the DMV.

Pearson is the North Carolina coordinator for VoteRiders, an organization with a mission to help eligible citizens get IDs they need to vote. 

Getting an ID can be tough if you can’t take time off to get to the DMV, don’t have a way to get there, or can’t afford the fee to get a copy of a birth certificate, said Pearson.

“There are a lot of challenges facing people,” she said. 

VoteRiders can help assemble the needed paperwork, cover costs for documents, and pay for Uber rides to the DMV, Pearson said. 

For the first time since spring 2016, North Carolina voters are going to be asked for photo identification when they cast ballots in municipal elections this year. People who vote by mail will be asked to send a photocopy of their ID with their ballots. 

Historically, voter turnout is lighter for municipal elections than for statewide elections. This year’s elections are something of a test run leading to 2024, when many more people will turn out to vote in presidential, congressional and legislative races. 

Organizations that help people obtain ID, run voter registration drives, and work to boost voter education are getting the word out about with changes, a result of the implementation of the 2018 voter ID law. One important detail is that people without photo IDs can still vote with a provisional ballot if they fill out an extra form.

Drivers’ licenses, state ID cards, and passports can be used for voting purposes. Expired IDs will be accepted, as long as they aren’t more than a year out of date. Student and employee ID cards issued by universities and governments that are approved by the state Board of Elections can be used to vote. 

County elections offices should begin offering photo IDs to registered voters by the end of this week, state elections board spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email. 

Voters were last asked for photo IDs during the 2016 primary, before an expansive 2013 elections law that included an ID requirement was thrown out by a federal court.

Last year, a 4-3 Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court upheld a decision blocking the 2018 voter ID law because it discriminates against Black voters. A new Republican majority on the Supreme Court quickly reversed that decision this year. 

The state Board of Elections wanted to make an extensive outreach effort ahead of the municipal elections to tell people about the new photo ID requirement, but it does not have the money,  state Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell told legislators last month.

Republican legislative leaders have not agreed on a new spending plan for the budget year, which began more than three weeks ago. The senior budget writer for the state House predicted no agreement until mid-August

In-person voting starts Sept. 12 in Charlotte and Sanford. Absentee ballots for these elections must be ready by Aug. 11. Other municipalities across the state have elections on Oct. 10 or Nov. 7. 

You Can Vote, an organization that concentrates on voter registration, isn’t talking much about ID because, as of mid-July, rules hadn’t been finalized, said Kate Fellman, founder and executive director. 

“We’re waiting until a little closer to the election, when people start picking up interest” and when rules are in place, she said. 

For now, Fellman is emphasizing that people should vote even if they don’t have a photo ID. The law allows the voters to fill out an ID Exception Form and then complete a ballot. Voters without IDs can cast provisional ballots if they have a “reasonable impediment” to securing them, such as lack of transportation or necessary documents. Those ballots must be counted if the exception forms are filled out accurately. 

Exception forms will be available for people voting by mail, as well. The forms may help people who vote by mail and do not have access to photocopiers. 

The new photo ID requirement has Democracy NC planning for the first time to launch its Election Protection program for municipal elections, said Jean-Patrick Grillet, the organization’s research manager. Anticipating confusion on the part of voters and poll workers, Democracy NC will have election protection representatives at select polling places. 

Representatives will be at early voting locations, polling places in low-income neighborhoods and near community college campuses, Grillet said. 

Rural elections offices don’t have as many workers as offices in urban counties, and it takes longer for rural residents to get to DMV offices, creating a stark rural-urban divide when it comes to preparing for and implementing voter ID, he said. 

“It’s a really bleak situation for rural voters, especially rural voters who are not drivers,” Grillet said. 

Democracy NC is concerned about a section of the law that allows precinct officials to challenge voters if they don’t think the IDs they present are really theirs.

There’s a worry that voters with IDs in Surry County will be challenged, he said. Election deniers are particularly active there. Two Surry elections board members were removed from office earlier this year for refusing to certify the November 2022 election results.

“There are lots of logistical unknowns,” Grillet  said. “This is going to be a very challenging election season. It’s a test run on how we’re going to respond to voter ID.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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