Republicans put forward their first draft of a voter ID bill in North Carolina over the Thanksgiving holiday, and the outrage machine quickly cranked into action.

How dare they not count private college IDs? Don’t know you know “free” IDs aren’t really free?

By any reasonable standard, the voter ID bill itself is as pliable as you might get. Even people who oppose voter ID in general tend to recognize that, and voters just overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring the General Assembly to pass just such a bill.

That doesn’t mean its perfect. There are always issues with legislation like this.

But this is how the legislative process is supposed to work. The draft bill and even the first version filed are rough drafts, meant to be refined and improved as representatives on both sides of the aisle find holes in the legalese or examples where people might slip through the cracks.

This one just happens to be the most recent, but there are plenty of better examples. The tryptophan must have tempered people’s moods. Leaving money for the suicide prevention hotline out of the most recent budget comes to mind. The “deception session” debacle this summer also fits the bill.

Sure, acting incredulous on Twitter or sending out a fundraising email is one way to voice your displeasure with a bill as it initially stands. It probably brings in more money for your cause. But using the club of online outrage only leads to worse outcomes.

This incentivizes elected officials to keep plans under wraps as long as possible and move them as quickly as they can. More errors make it through. That’s how you end up with constitutional amendment bills that misstate the name of the agency they wish to reform.

There are almost always ways to constructively criticize a bill and improve it through the legislative process. Give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, push in the right places, and you’d be surprised how often the kinks get worked out.

You don’t always have to sound the alarm.

Cover image of a protest at the General Assembly by Gerry Dincher via Flickr (Creative Commons).


  1. This commentary totally ignores the history of this NCGA’s actions. Suspicion and caution are justified given this legislature’s propensity to change laws when it is to their political advantage.

    The current voter ID law is a far cry from the original versions of the bill’s passed by GOP supermajorities. If this full vetting of the law had been done originally, there probably wouldn’t be the level of acrimony about the topic now. Self righteously blaming the protestors now for the blaze created by these laws is rewriting history. The same legislators acting nice today are the same ones who lit the fire in the first place.

    On another note, this is still a special session with an ambiguous agenda. Are you willing to bet that there will not be a controversial secret bill or two passed at the last minute?


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