Voter ID Bill Stirs Legislative Passion
A bill in the legislature that would require North Carolinians to show a photo ID at the polls has become a flashpoint of controversy among lawmakers. The measure's Republican sponsors say the bill aims to fight voter fraud and ensure that every vote is counted. But Democrats believe the proposal is a regressive measure aimed at keeping many of their supporters away from the polls. Under current law, North Carolinians are not required to show identification to vote. But Republican Rep. Timothy Moore of Kings Mountain says that makes it too easy for people to commit voter fraud. "There's evidence out there, there's data showing where there are people who are going out there and unfortunately they're doing this. There aren't very many criminal convictions, it's nearly impossible to prosecute," Moore said. Moore believes requiring North Carolinians to present one of a number of appropriate photo IDs would help eliminate problems including double voting and impersonation. "Right now we've got our law written in such a way that the door is wide open to be exploited fraudulently. And so the purpose of this bill very simply is to restore confidence in the process and not inhibit access." The bill sets aside $600,000 to help finance new voter ID cards and public service announcements to help residents stay informed. The bill is modeled after similar measures that became law in Georgia and Indiana in 2005. "If they don't have a photo ID, they're given a provisional ballot, which is then segregated from the rest of the ballot," said Jennie Bowser, who tracks voter ID laws for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "And those voters who did not have ID, have to go back to an election official after the election, and present a photo ID. And doing that is necessary for their ballot to be counted." Bowser says Georgia and Indiana have the most stringent laws of the eight states that currently require photo IDs at the polls. Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation this year. Many of those states are led by Republican lawmakers. In North Carolina, Democratic legislators aren't happy about the measure. House Minority leader Joe Hackney is one of them. "This bill is nakedly partisan, nakedly partisan, nakedly partisan, that's what it's about. It's just a partisan bill," he said. "It's about suppressing the vote in two groups in particular: older voters and younger voters. It's about voter suppression." Hackney says college students and the elderly are less likely to have the kind of state or federal photo ID the measure would require. It would affect some African-Americans too, according to leaders in the black community. Earlier this week, NAACP state president William Barber railed against the measure in a boisterous public hearing at the Legislature. "It is ridiculous, it is regressive, it is wrong, and it is a political form of racism and classism, and we need to stop this foolishness in the people's house and work on education, and jobs, and the issues that really matter." Barber then submitted a copy of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits denying suffrage based on "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." But just outside the hearing, another sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Ric Killian of Charlotte said the measure will help all North Carolinians exercise their right to suffrage. He then ticked off what he said were a few instances of voter fraud. "First of all we've heard about the one in the Washington County Sheriff's race. We've also- in Scotland Neck in both 2007 and 2009 there were instances of people voting twice and other fraudulent things, and it caused that election in both cases to be questioned." State election officials say the race in Washington County was investigated because of an administrative mixup, but no fraudulent votes were found to have been cast. And a State Bureau Investigation in Scotland Neck didn't come back with any findings. Gary Bartlett heads the state Board of Elections. "There have been some wild allegations about different kinds of fraud, or something that was supposed to happen but didn't or a mistake by an elections official, but with that comes very few details," Bartlett said. "And certainly we want to know if there is an issue, because we want to address it. " Bartlett says the number of instances of voter fraud in North Carolina is small. Last year for example, only 21 total cases of double voting and absentee fraud were referred to district attorneys. Bartlett says most of the incidents election officials investigate turn out not to be violations. But he says he appreciates the efforts of citizens to keep an eye on what happens at the polls.