Lost amidst the hyperbole about Voter ID in the new election law signed August 12 by NC Governor Pat McCrory is a seeming contradiction between several provisions in the bill. Republicans have long claimed that requiring that voters produce a state-issued voter idea was critical to improving integrity in the electoral process. At the same time, the law changes the requirements for identifying contributors to outside groups that produce campaign communications and eliminates the requirement that candidates “stand by their ads” or claim ownership int he claims made in their electronic messages.
Anonymity has long been a part of American political discourse. The Founding Fathers anonymously published their views on what became the Constitution in the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers. They did so in many cases because of the mortal dangers they faced if their identities were known.
Today the issue is not life-or-death, but trust. Public opinion polls consistently state that citizens lack trust in politicians and our political process. One reason why Americans don’t trust the political process is that it lacks transparency. Voter ID laws create the perception that the process is more transparent, even if there are other intended or unintended consequences.
At the same time, reducing or eliminating the disclosure requirements for donors’ names creates the perception of election mischief, even if this is constitutionally protected by the 1st Amendment. Likewise, the “Stand by your ad” law, on the books since 1999, may not have reduced the number and nastiness of negative ads, but it at least allowed voters to clearly see who produced the message.
Trust in the electoral process is critical for a functioning republic. The new election law passed in North Carolina may do little to improve this trust as lawmakers have both improved and hurt transparency in their recent legislative efforts.