Voter ID proposal attracts pros, cons

Published 11:07 pm Friday, March 18, 2011

RALEIGH – If early indications hold true, a measure currently under study by state legislators should develop into interesting battle in the coming weeks.

As part of their campaign promise, Republicans in the NC House of Representatives are pushing forward with a plan that would require voters across the state to present a valid photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot.

The proposed legislation basically says that those voting in person would have to show an identification card bearing that person’s photo along with other information. Photo IDs accepted would include a driver’s license or a U.S. passport. Student photo IDs from a state-supported college/university are acceptable, however, those from a private school are not.

For those without those aforementioned types of photo identification, the proposed legislation will use $600,000 spread among all 100 county boards of election to provide photo ID cards. Those cards will be issued for free to voters.

Republican leaders say the measure is aimed at cutting down on voter fraud.

However, state Democrats have a different opinion. They say the proposal will disenfranchise voters. Plus, they say it will be burdensome on senior citizens, especially those who no longer drive and do not have a state-issued license. That age group was also signaled out for possibly having trouble locating their birth certificate, a document needed when applying for any type of identification card.

Bob Hall, director of the nonpartisan organization Democracy North Carolina, was more direct in his opposition to the proposal.

“To begin with, for people concerned about voter fraud, this bill does nothing to address the most frequent ways fraud happens,” Hall said in an e-mail sent to this newspaper. “It doesn’t add any new safeguards on absentee voting; in fact, this bill makes it easier to get an absentee ballot. But here’s the truth: the rate of somebody impersonating someone else is ten times higher for people voting with absentee ballots than those who vote in person.”

He continued, “Second, the bill will not prevent a person who has moved out of the county or out of the state from coming back and voting in their old precinct because under this bill they can just show their old NC driver’s license as their ID. That’s what the bill allows.

“Third, it won’t stop non-citizens or people still serving a felony sentence from voting. They have photo IDs, so requiring them to show an ID won’t stop them from voting.

“So people who believe fraud is widespread can have no confidence that this bill will really reduce fraud. It only makes voting more difficult for people who don’t have a government-issued photo ID. That’s all it does – target people without a government photo ID. And the data for North Carolina clearly shows that they are disproportionately low-income, people of color, seniors and women,” Hall concluded.

The bill also contains other campaign finance provisions added in direct response to the investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley’s campaign. It makes clear a candidate is financially liable for civil penalties issued by the State Board of Elections if a candidate failed to fix a problem he/she was told about. The board fined Easley’s campaign committee $100,000 in October 2009, but the campaign didn’t have enough money to pay most of it.

The measure also would prohibit campaign contributions to a candidate by executives of a company that has a state contract in which the elected office the candidate is seeking awards the contract.

The Elections Committee in the NC House is expected to continue its study of the proposed legislation next week.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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