House Democrats headed off an override today of Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of H351, a provision that would require all NC voters to show state-issued photo identification before voting at the polls. But their victory could be temporary.
Voter ID has been one of the most thoroughly and hotly debated issues of the legislative year so far. And with the override attempt coming on the heels of a heated hour of debate on the abortion limits override, tempers were higher than ever this afternoon.
One Democrat after another stood to speak against the bill, mostly members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who say the ID requirement will disproportionately affect black voters, as well as students, the elderly, and women – the groups most likely to not have a driver’s license.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, told the House, “I’m partial caregiver to my 86-year-old mother who does not drive anymore, who does not have a drivers license. She’s just one of the many people this bill will impact.”
Adams said the measure won’t restore confidence in government, as its title promises. “There is no justification or data to support the idea that there is a problem with voter fraud in North Carolina,” said Adams. “This bill is about control. Controlling the outcome of the next presidential election.”
“If you’re black like me,” she added, “you need an ID.”
Other Democrats rose to echo Adams’s argument.
Minority Leader Joe Hackney cited statistics from 2008. “With over 4.3 million votes cast, there were 40 cases of irregularity. Most turned out to be some sort of clerical error. This is a bill in search of a problem.”
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, told his colleagues he was a click away from buying a fake drivers’ license online from the House floor. He said the voter ID bill “can be subverted by anybody with a credit card and a computer. And there’s absolutely no way on God’s green earth that an election official in Podunk, NC can tell the difference.”
“Why are we wasting our time?” Alexander asked.
But Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, compared voter fraud to a tree falling in the forest. “If someone votes in your name and no one reports it, has voter fraud occurred? It’s really easy to do,” he said, especially with voters who have died.
Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said the measure might help clean up the voter registration rolls, which she said are full of people who no longer live where elections officials think they do. “But if somebody’s got their name and their address, they can go down and vote,” Avila said. “There are more and more people on our voter rolls who are no longer where they say they are, and there are people who know that.”
And Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, pointed out that you need photo ID to be allowed to panhandle in Winston-Salem. “I ask you to do the common-sense thing,” Folwell.said. “People will realize that their vote counts.”
Tensions hit a high point when Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, rose to speak. He doesn’t often weigh in on debates, but he said he took this one personally.
“This bill is an insult to me. It’s an insult to the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King,” Moore said. “I feel like my rights have been raped.”
“This is purely, purely an attempt at voter suppression, it’s an attempt at disenfranchisement, and I’m ashamed that this bill is being considered for an override.”
That offended Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash.
“I’m sorry that some of you had your vote suppressed in the past. A lot of my constituents feel like their votes aren’t counted today. They feel like they’re disenfranchised,” Collins said.
“I’ve sat here for months and been insulted by members of the other party,” Collins continued. “I’ve took it about all I’m gonna take it."
“You can question my motives all you want to,” Collins added, “but if you’re voting against this bill, I’m questioning your motives,” adding that if voter fraud was benefiting Democrats, he wasn’t surprised Democrats were opposed to voter ID.
It wasn’t long after that that Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, called the question, shutting down the debate over Democrats’ protests.
Not dead yet
The vote on the veto override was 67-52, five short of the 72 votes needed.
All Democrats voted against the override, as well as one Republican: Skip Stam. Not because he changed his mind on the bill, but for strategic reasons.
Under House rules, any member who voted on the side of a bill that won the vote can move to reconsider the vote. Stam’s vote against the override put him on the prevailing side, and that's exactly what he did, recalling the measure and then leaving it in limbo to be reconsidered another day.
Democrats protested the move. “Don’t you agree it is time for these contentious issues to be decided and put to rest and to get to other stuff?” asked Hackney.
But Stam defended his move as “standard procedure in Washington,” and said Democrats who voted with their caucus “might think differently later.”
“It’s not settled till it’s settled right,” Stam said.