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 in order to vote. But Republican representative 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. They’re going out and committing. There aren’t very many criminal convictions, it’s nearly impossible to prosecute."
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 just- we’ve got our law written in such a way that the door is wide open to be exploited fraudulently, she says. "And so the purpose of this bill very simply is to restore confidence in the process and not inhibit access."
The bill sets aside six hundred thousand dollars 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.
Jennie Bowser tracks voter ID laws for the National Conference of State Legislatures, and says "In those two states, when voters go to the polls, they have to show a photo ID. And if they don’t have a photo ID, they’re given a provisional ballot, which is then segregated from the rest of the ballot, 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 of the eight states that currently require photo IDs at the polls, Georgia and Indiana have the most stringent laws.
Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation this year. Many of those states are led by Republican lawmakers. Here 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. 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. I give you a copy of the fifteenth amendment of the constitution."
The fifteenth amendment prohibits denying suffrage based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But just outside the hearing, another sponsor of the bill, Republican House member 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, a mistake by an elections official, but with that comes very few details. 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.