Republican leaders in the state House say they’re committed to bringing forth a bill that would require all state residents to present photo identification in order to vote. They say they know some voting rights advocates are opposed to any kind of photo ID bill. That’s why they’re rolling out a schedule of public hearings and meetings before introducing a specific measure. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis told a news conference that he and other House members are committed to going through a careful and deliberative process as they put together a Voter ID bill:
"So that we arrive at a policy that is fair, that takes into account legitimate reasons why voters may not have an ID, and to place a solution- a way that those IDs can be issued."
Tillis says House lawmakers will begin a month-long process of gathering information on photo ID measures this week. They’re making plans to hold their first public hearing next week, in addition to a special meeting featuring a panel of experts who differ in their views over the photo ID issue. Republican representative David Lewis of Harnett County says he hopes to have a bill before the House by mid-April.
"We are asking our colleagues in the House who do not support this bill, the various outside groups who’ve made it clear through their historic and continuing opposition to this bill, we are asking them to help us, we are asking them to come to the table and seriously talk about an issue that is very important to us," said Lewis.
Lewis sponsored a photo ID bill in that Governor Bev Perdue eventually vetoed. Back then, he said that without photo identification, it’s too easy for voters to commit fraud. And he still says that today:
"We believe that the integrity of the election system itself is important. We are doing this so that every citizen who’s entitled to vote has the opportunity do so and that that vote counts."
But not everyone agrees that voter fraud is a problem that photo IDs could help solve.
"There has been no reason in the world, none. Nobody has shown me any reason to require you to walk up and present photo ID in order to vote," says Democratic Representative Mickey Michaux of Durham.
At a news conference held by the legislative black caucus earlier today, he said state board of elections statistics show voter fraud accounts for less than one percent of all ballots tallied across the state in any given election.
"If you want to make sure that fraud doesn’t exist, why don’t you just put ink in your fingers like they do in some countries, you go in, get a little ink on your fingers and that says you’ve voted. It’s just ridiculous," says Michaux.
Michaux and other members of the caucus say it’s clear that Republican leaders want to make photo IDs mandatory at the polls. And he’s doubtful that a month’s worth of meetings and hearings will allow any other points of view to be reflected in a final bill:
"I think that’s a sales pitch that they’re out there pushing right now, that they think that by making it look fair, that it will become fair. But in my estimation, that old saying that you’ve got going around about lipstick on a pig- that’s the same thing. It’s still a pig."
Michaux and other caucus members say the goal of this legislation is to restrict the vote of about 500 thousand residents who’re likely to vote Democratic. Republican leaders deny that charge and continue to insist that it’s simply a measure to fight voter fraud.