Do Absentee Mail Voters have to show ID in North Carolina?

The short answer is no. Only persons voting in person must show ID.

From the comments to this post showing differences by party of same day registration/voting as compared to absentee via mail voting was the following comment (shown in full):

It could be argued, of course, that the Obama vote totals in both ’08 and ’12 were unjustly enriched from a no-ID policy, if one believes that matching an ID to the vote is an appropriate regulation in a democratic system. The new law, in this view, would correct the “over-vote” for that candidate.

I’d be interested in knowing whether the presentation of an ID in order to obtain or register a mail-in ballot is a requirement under the new law.

The only form of voting under the new North Carolina election law that does not require an ID to be shown to someone to legally vote is absentee mail voting. From the text of the H589:


SECTION 2.1. Article 14A of Chapter 163 of the General Statutes is amended by adding a new section to read:

“§ 163‑166.13. Photo identification requirement for voting in person.

(a) Every qualified voter voting in person in accordance with this Article, G.S. 163‑227.2, or G.S. 163‑182.1A shall present photo identification bearing any reasonable resemblance to that voter to a local election official at the voting place before voting, except as follows: [bold emphasis added by me above]

The requirement to show an ID in vote is limited to those voting in person, with an allowance made for curbside voting outside a precinct where a poll worker comes to the car (this is considered in person). If you request an absentee ballot you do have to provide some identifying information in written form; options include providing a NC DL number, the last 4 digits of a Social Security number, etc [see § 163‑230.2. (4)].

SECTION 4.1.  G.S. 163‑229(b) of the law begins a lengthy section governing absentee ballots. There are a couple of notable changes.

  • The voter no longer has to personally write out the request for an absentee ballot or use a form created by a county board of election to request an absentee ballot. Now the form requesting an absentee ballot can only come from the State Board of Elections, but can be a pre-printed form (not written out by voter). In the past, if someone other than the voter or close family member/legal guardian wrote out the request for an absentee ballot, that would constitute fraud. This appears to open up campaigns bringing the absentee request form to voters. See § 163‑230.2. (a)
  • The voter now has to sign the absentee ballot (as before) but now two people must sign and say they saw them vote, as I read it.

The first bullet point is an expansion that makes absentee voting easier from an electioneering standpoint (having an elderly voter hand write a request that was fairly detailed was time consuming; if you did it for them, it was fraud).

The second bullet point requiring two witnesses to view the votes is a tightening. A further tightening is found in SECTION 4.6.(a)  G.S. 163‑226.3(a)(4) that refers to places like nursing homes no longer being able to have managers or workers in Nursing Homes help voters get absentee ballots for residents/patients. The law says “multi-partisan teams” will go out to such places and help folks get absentee ballots. The application of this approach could be quite different across counties, and within parts of counties. I don’t get the ban on workers at Nursing Homes, etc helping residents vote. The people who the State trusts to care for people in Nursing Homes can’t be trusted to help them vote?

It is a long and complicated bill, soon to be law. Read it for yourself.

update: I revised the post to note that in the past, a close family member of a legal guardian could have written out the request for an absentee ballot. Thanks for commenter who flagged this error in the post.

Update on Durham, NC Absentee v Same Day Register Voting

Following up on yesterday’s post, I managed to get some data for the share of Same Day Registration and Voting during early voting by party (in 2008 from SBOE; 3rd link from top), and the party breakdown of Absentee voting in Durham County, North Carolina (from the 2012 election; received from the Durham Board of Elections by email). I compiled a table below. You can see that people registering as unaffiliated had a similar share of Absentee mail voting in 2012, and same day registration and voting during 2008 (I can’t find this broken down by party of registration for 2012), but that Republicans were much less likely to use same day registration/voting, with Democrats being more likely. Same day registration and voting during the early voting period is now gone. Absentee voting by mail remains. If someone showed an ID as everyone will now have to do, why not allow same day registration and voting? The effect of ending same day registration and voting by party is fairly clear, in Durham County, North Carolina, at least.

Party Share by Absentee Mail & Same Day Register/Vote
Durham County, North Carolina
Mail Same Day
2012 2008
Party N % N %
Dem 2355 46.9 2729 59
Rep 1267 25.3 580 12.5
Una 1381 27.5 1295 28
Liber 13           <1 18           <1
Total 5016 4622

The potential impact of one voting change in Durham, N.C.

The North Carolina General Assembly is set to enact a sweeping series of changes to the voting laws. The most high profile change has been the requirement to show an ID to vote. Nate Cohn says the requirement to show an ID would have reduced President Obama’s total in North Carolina by 25,000-30,000 votes, had the proposed law been in effect in 2012. Gov Romney won North Carolina by around 92,000 votes in 2012, but President Obama won North Carolina by ~14,000 votes in 2008.

Below, I estimate that in Durham County, North Carolina alone, President Obama would have had a net reduction of at least 2,460 votes if voters had been unable to register and vote on the same day during early voting; the bill that is about to become law ends this option. I cannot find the data for the same analysis below, conducted statewide.

I could not find information on the number of persons who registered and voted on the same day on the State Board of Elections site (they are included in early vote totals; did I miss it anyone?).  So, I emailed the Durham Board of elections and asked them for this information for the 2012 election and they emailed it to me. What is written below is for Durham County, North Carolina, only, a Democratic Party bastion.

In 2012, 147,497 people voted in Durham County, and 4,766 of them registered and voted on the same day during early voting (3.2% of the votes cast). None of these votes would have been allowed under the new law. Some more detail to place this number in context for Durham.

Link to Durham County, N.C. 2012 election totals (you can find all numbers below at this link except for the 4,766 emailed to me as noted above):

  • 147,497 people voted (only 38,897, or 26.3% of them voted on election day)
  • 102,142 voted in person during early voting
  • 4,766 of the 102,142 (4.7% of in person, early votes) registered and voted on same day during the early voting period. This will no longer be allowed under the new law.
  • 5,015 voted via absentee mail ballot (provision unchanged in the new law)
  • 1,442 voted via approved provisional votes (they came from both early voting, election day, and mail in absentee)

I asked the Durham Board of Elections for the proportion of same day registration/voting that registered by Party, but was told they had not compiled this information for 2012; I am checking to see if it is available for 2008.

President Obama won 75.8% of the vote in Durham County in 2012, so using this share to apply to this registration/voting on the same day would mean 3,613 lost votes for the President, and 1,153 for someone else, for a net reduction of votes from President Obama of 2,460 if the new rules were in place in 2012. I suspect that a far higher share of the 4,766 persons who registered and voted on the same day voted for the President, based on how much more organized the Obama GOTV effort was in Durham compared to the Romney campaign’s (understatement of the year) but would like to answer the question definitively with data.

These are the results for 1 county, for one provision that has changed. I would like to see this analysis statewide, but don’t want to do it! There are many other changes, but I haven’t looked at those here.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was very active in the GOTV efforts for the Obama campaign as chronicled in prior posts (here and here).