Groups mobilize against voter ID proposal

Posted January 23, 2013 12:06 p.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2013 7:31 p.m. EST

— A group of left-leaning organizations said Wednesday that requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls would "stack the deck" against fair and open elections in North Carolina.

Republican legislative leaders say they plan to consider a voter ID bill when the General Assembly reconvenes next week. The GOP-controlled legislature passed an ID bill in 2011 that was vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue. New Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he supports an ID requirement for voting.

The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, Democracy North Carolina, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and other groups are mobilizing to oppose the legislation. They have launched the ProtectOurVoteNC.com website for people to lobby lawmakers and share stories of how an ID law would hurt them, and they plan to start airing anti-voter ID public service announcements across the state this weekend.

"Why is this on the agenda at all?" Rev. William Barber, state president of the NAACP, said at a news conference. "North Carolina elections are working."

Barber noted that GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, backed a 2003 law that called for voters to provide their signature to attest their identity under penalty of a felony charge. No one has shown that the law isn't working, he said.

"There's no epidemic" of voter fraud, he said. "It's an overstatement to call it minuscule."

Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, said North Carolina needs more than books of signatures to ensure elections are fair.

"I don't think the signature statute holds muster to what the people out there want," said Warren, who is drafting a voter ID bill for the coming session. "We took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and part of that is protecting the integrity of the vote."

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, estimated that anywhere from 100,000 to more than 500,000 of the 6 million registered voters in the state don't have a photo ID. Blacks are 40 percent more likely than whites to fall in that group, he said, adding that seniors, women and young voters also would be disproportionately affected by an ID law.

"Why does the state want to spend millions of dollars to put up a stupid barrier for people who are legitimate voters?" Hall said.

Previous voter ID proposals haven't addressed people who cast mail-in absentee ballots, and Hall noted those voters are more likely to be Republican.

"The Republican Party is trying to use the political process – to manipulate the political process – for their own advantage, and that's wrong," he said.

Barber, Hall and others said lawmakers should instead use federal Help America Vote Act funds to help county elections officials beef up training and staffing at the polls. Also, they said, the state should invest in computerizing national voting records and back efforts for national voting standards.

"We want integrity (in elections), and we have supported things that would bring integrity," Barber said. "Let the elections be broad and open, and let the chips fall where they may. Don't stack the deck ... with voter ID and claim we've have a fair and free election."

Warren said he wants a bill that's fair and balanced but understands not everyone will be happy with it.

"In the final analysis, we'll have a good photo ID bill that will protect integrity of the vote and address concerns these groups are expressing," he said.