- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2018

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina legislators Thursday came closer to completing plans to submit a voter identification referendum to state residents this fall, as Republicans seek public backing to secure the requirement after judges struck down a version of photo ID two years ago.

With the Senate giving tentative approval to a measure after sharp debate, only one more affirmative legislative vote is needed Friday before the proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution is submitted to voters in November. The House earlier this week approved the question and language for the amendment.

“The people will finally get to make their case” about whether photo ID is necessary, Sen. Rick Horner of Wilson County said before he and 32 other Republican senators voted for the proposal. The amendment required 30 votes.

The photo ID question would be the last of six proposed amendments for statewide ballots that lawmakers pushed through both chambers this week. Two more got final approval Thursday.

Although more than 30 states require some form of identification to vote, only Mississippi and Missouri have constitutional provisions addressing photo ID. Arkansas will have a similar proposed constitutional amendment on ballots this fall.

The North Carolina amendment in part would read: “Voters offering to vote in person shall present photographic identification before voting.” The General Assembly could provide some exceptions to the rule, the language says, as they did when a conventional photo ID law was approved in 2013.

A federal appeals court struck down much of the 2013 law, which included reducing early voting from 17 to 10 days and eliminating same-day registration during the early voting period. The judges found the provisions were passed with discriminatory intent toward black voters. Data presented in court showed black and older voters disproportionately lacked one of several forms of required ID.

GOP senators say voter fraud exists, citing anecdotal information from their home counties and other poll observers. But Democrats said numbers show it’s extremely rare and that the cure wasn’t necessary at the expense of placing more obstacles in the way of registered voters.

An audit of the November 2016 elections by the state election board found 24 substantiated cases of people illegally voting multiple times among 4.8 million ballots cast. Voter impersonation potentially occurred in only one case, a board official told legislators last week.

“No matter what you believe is happening, the statistics and the data have shown … unequivocally that voter ID laws such as this one suppress the African-American vote,” said Sen. Erica Smith, a Northampton County Democrat, who is black.

Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County warned Republicans that by passing the amendment “you will vote to repeat history” and forget the injustices citizens lived through in past generations to obtain the right to vote.

But Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County said nothing suppressed the vote more than “their votes being canceled by someone who voted illegally in the state of North Carolina.”

Earlier Thursday, House and Senate Republicans settled on an amendment to reduce the maximum allowed individual or corporate income tax from 10 percent to 7 percent. The Senate last year had proposed lowering the cap to 5.5 percent, but several House Republicans balked at that. Several Senate Republicans grudgingly accepted a 7 percent compromise.

The current individual income tax rate is 5.499 percent and the corporate rate is 3 percent. Both are poised to drop again in 2019.

Like the income tax cap question, the House gave final approval to the judicial vacancy proposal along mostly party lines.

The governor now essentially chooses all judicial candidates. The proposed system would create nonpartisan “judicial merit” commissions to evaluate nominees for seats and send them to the General Assembly. The legislature would approve at least two of those nominees, from which the governor would choose one.

The legislature already finalized proposed amendments creating the right to hunt and fish, expanding crime victims’ rights and making clear the legislature - not the governor - appoints state ethics and elections board members.

Proposed amendments can’t be blocked by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto stamp.

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