RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday vetoed a controversial proposal to require voters to present photo identification before casting their ballots.
"The right to choose our leaders is among the most precious freedoms we have – both as Americans and North Carolinians," Perdue said in a statement. "North Carolinians who are eligible to vote have a constitutionally guaranteed right to cast their ballots, and no one should put up obstacles to citizens exercising that right."
House Bill 351 would require a person arriving at a voting precinct to show one of eight forms of photo ID, including a new voter card available for free from county election boards. Without the ID, people could still cast provisional ballots but would have to prove their identity later.
Republican lawmakers said the IDs would discourage voter fraud and ensure that people who come to the polls aren't turned away because someone unlawfully voted using their name. The bill was modeled on laws in Georgia and Indiana that have been upheld by the courts.
Democrats said voters already face a felony if they vote using someone else's name and point out the problem is rare. The State Board of Elections referred 43 cases of potential fraud to district attorneys in 2008 and 21 in 2010.
“We shouldn’t be surprised by how far the governor will go to score political points with the liberal wing of her party," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in a statement. "A measure that ensures voters are who they say they are is a no-brainer, and most North Carolinians agree. It’s a shame Gov. Perdue is playing politics with the integrity of elections.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis added that most North Carolina residents back the idea of an ID requirement to vote and said it wouldn't prevent anyone from voting lawfully.
"Gov. Perdue’s latest veto is the clearest example yet that she is out of touch with North Carolinians," Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a statement.
Damon Circosta, executive director of the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Voter Education, applauded the veto, calling the photo ID requirement "ill-conceived."
"The measure would have placed undue burdens on law-abiding citizens, making it harder for thousands of qualified voters to cast a ballot, without making our election system any more secure," Circosta said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt called the ID requirement "a costly solution in search of a problem" and said thousands of senior citizens, minorities and students would have to "navigate an obstacle course of bureaucracy before being allowed to vote."
Democrats panned the ID restriction as part of a concerted nationwide effort by Republicans to discourage voting, especially among older adults and black residents. North Carolina is expected to be a battleground state in the race for the presidency in 2012.
Perdue said lawmakers could allow voters to present other forms of identification without risking the integrity of an election.
"There was a time in North Carolina history when the right to vote was enjoyed only by some citizens rather than by all," she said. "That time is past, and we should not revisit it."
The House approved the bill by a 62-51 margin, well short of the 72 votes needed to override a veto. The Senate already has enough Republican votes to override.
The veto was Perdue's eighth this year. Lawmakers override her veto of the state budget.
In addition to the veto, Perdue signed 22 bills into law on Wednesday. Those bills included Laura’s Law, which increases the penalties and prison time for repeat DWI offenders. It was named after Laura Fortenberry, a 17-year-old from Gaston County killed last summer by a drunk driver who already had two DWI convictions.
Perdue did not sign, but allowed the Pilot Release of Inmates to Adult Care Homes bill to go into law. The bill directs state Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Correction to establish a pilot program to allow certain inmates to be released from confinement and placed into one adult care home. It will apply to those inmates who have been determined by DOC to be in need of personal care services and medication management. The home selected for the pilot program would be prohibited from having or admitting any residents who are not inmates.