House plans go-slow approach for voter ID bill

Republican House leaders said Tuesday that legislation requiring voters to present photo identification before casting a ballot will undergo weeks of deliberation and review before being filed in late March.

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Matthew Burns
Cullen Browder
RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican House leaders said Tuesday that legislation requiring voters to present photo identification before casting a ballot will undergo weeks of deliberation and review before being filed in late March.

House Elections Committee Chairman David Lewis said a public hearing will be held next Tuesday to gather input on the idea of a voter ID, followed by two meetings where experts both for and against the issue will discuss the challenges to implement the plan.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said one such challenge is how to handle the votes of people who don't have a photo ID. He suggested treating them as provisional ballots, which would be counted only after people were able to prove their identity to elections officials.

“A convincing majority of North Carolinians support voter ID, and we will pass a strong bill this session,” Tillis said. "This is the right approach to move North Carolina to a photo identification voting system.”

The House Elections Committee won't vote on the resulting legislation until other lawmakers and the public can again air any concerns about it, said Lewis, R-Harnett. He said he hopes to have the bill to the House floor by mid-April.

"This bill will not be rushed," he said.

Lewis pleaded with Democratic lawmakers and groups opposed to voter ID to openly discuss the issue, saying the GOP-controlled House will move forward on the legislation with or without them but wants to craft the best possible bill.

“We get that you don't like it, but give us your input about how we can make this the best bill it can be.” he said.

"That's a much better process than just slamming something through without a lot of public input," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a left-leaning political advocacy group.

Still, Democrats quickly blasted the idea of requiring an ID to vote, saying instances of voter fraud in North Carolina are rare. They suggested it is, instead, a way to keep Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots.

"They're trying to create the perception that there's rampant voter fraud when there's no statistics to bear that out," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. "It will disproportionately impact voters who will likely come to the polls and be more likely to vote either Democrat or independent than Republican, and that is their goal – to repress that vote by any means necessary."

Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, said "a vote-less people are a voiceless people," and called the voter ID proposal "fundamentally wrong."

"It would disenfranchise thousands of voters currently registered in this state," Pierce said.

Lewis argued that the integrity of elections need to be ensured.

"We're doing this so that every North Carolinian – every citizen who's entitled to vote – has the opportunity to do so and that that vote counts," he said. "We stand ready to listen and work with those who want to legitimately talk about this important issue."

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said photo IDs can be easily faked, so that doesn't guarantee that someone determined to commit vote fraud can be stopped. He facetiously suggested the GOP push for inking voters fingers when they cast their ballots, as is done in some developing nations.

"We have the best voting system in the world in this state – in this country," Michaux said. "I don't see why we need to mess it up with any other things that would cause people not to be able to cast that ballot that they have a constitutional right to do."

Michaux noted that people who cast mail-in absentee ballots are asked for identification, but Lewis said the bill would likely address that issue.

Tillis said it also would set procedures for handling the votes of people who don't have their ID when they go to the polls.

"Technically, you may not have an ID at the time you vote, but you will have to have some authentication for that vote to be recorded," he said.

Florida uses a signature verification as a back-up. Some suggest actually taking photos at the polls for cross reference.

"People who have (and ID) show it. People who don't, they still have some kind of protection, some kind of verification process," said Phillips of Common Cause.

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said he welcomes the opportunity to air his concerns as the voter ID bill is drafted, although he remains convinced that any legislation will unfairly affect poor, elderly and minority voters and will be a needless expense for the state.

"We will work diligently with others to provide constructive proposals to protect the integrity of the election process and ensure that no eligible voter is turned away, or made to come back a second time, simply because they lack or forget to bring a photo ID when they vote," Hall said in a statement. "That should be the goal we all share – we must honor every citizen’s right to cast a ballot that counts, as the North Carolina constitution promises."

The state hasn't determined the cost of providing free photo IDs to people who don't already have them, Lewis said, but it likely would be minimal. Georgia has issued fewer than 27,000 such IDs over the past six years, he said.

"We feel it is important that people have faith in the integrity of the system,” he said. “If we can restore some confidence in folks – I really feel that's priceless.”

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