Local Politics

Wake County commissioners back NC voter ID bill

Posted March 19, 2012 6:47 p.m. EDT
Updated March 20, 2012 7:46 a.m. EDT

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners is putting its support behind a Republican-backed proposal that would require North Carolina voters to present photo identification before casting ballots.

The board voted 4-3 Monday in favor of a resolution supporting House Bill 351, which the General Assembly passed last year but was later vetoed by the governor.

The bill 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.

Supporters say a voter ID law would discourage voter fraud and protect the integrity of the voting system.

Opponents, however, have argued that voter fraud is rare and that requiring a photo ID would discourage voting among older adults, college students and the poor, who might not have the means to obtain a valid photo ID.

Gov. Beverly Perdue refused to sign the bill into law last June, saying that no one should put up obstacles to citizens exercising their right to vote.

But the state Senate overrode Perdue’s veto, and it could come back up for debate in the House when it reconvenes next month.

Also on Monday, the state NAACP chapter urged county governments not to try and enact local versions of the voter ID bill.

Doing so would violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection, state NAACP President William Barber stated in a letter to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. The NAACP also opposes the state measure, calling it a way to disenfranchise voters.

Wake County commissioners voted Monday to endorse the original General Assembly bill rather than a local version. The House of Representatives could try to override Perdue's veto when it meets next month.

Wake County commission Chair Paul Coble said Monday that requiring ID is no different than other state services that require it.

"People go to the bank, produce IDs. They get health and welfare services and have to have IDs," he said. "You even have to have an ID to get in the governor's mansion for the Christmas party. I don't think it's an unreasonable request."

The commissioners’ resolution, reads in part:

"Now it is time to reaffirm for all citizens the right of an honest voter not to have his or her legitimate vote canceled out or diluted by an illegal vote. … Every American who cares enough to take the time to vote should also care enough to obtain even the most basic form of identification, or to request assistance to obtain some minimal identification to protect the integrity of a process for which others have laid down their lives."

After more than 30 minutes of debate, commissioners Betty Lou Ward, James West and Ervin Portman voted against the measure. Coble, as well as commissioners Tony Gurley, Joe Bryan and Phil Matthews, voted in favor of it.

West called the bill a tragedy.

"It looks pretty good on the surface, but I think it creates division. It creates wedges between us, and we seem to constantly be doing this," he said. "It evokes emotions, creates fear and divides the haves and haves-not."

Portman called the resolution a "political wedge issue" and accused Coble, who's running for the 13th Congressional District seat, of introducing the resolution for political gain.

Last month, the board passed a similar resolution in support of another GOP-supported bill that would put the issue of gay marriage before the public for a May 8 vote.

"I understand that this is not a perfect bill," Gurley said. But voter fraud happens, he said, and it frustrates people who feel their vote is being canceled out.

"I don't think we're taking anything away from anybody. I don’t think this is going to hurt anything," Matthews said, adding that he thinks the voter ID bill will make the process much stronger.

Commissioners heard from numerous people at its meeting prior to the vote, urging the board not to back the voter ID bill.

No one spoke out supporting the board's resolution.

"This bill will be a barrier to our democratic process and to many North Carolinians' right to vote," said Cathy Boos, a pre-school teacher who said obtaining the required identification could prove to be a hardship for voters with limited transportation options or financial resources.

"People with limited resources deserve to be heard and deserve to be voting members in our state," she said.

Jerome Brown, chairman of the Wake County Voter Education Coalition, said the voter ID bill is a legal way to reinstitute "discriminatory tactics that have taken years for us to eliminate."

"North Carolina should not be shackled with a voter ID bill," he said. "It would be divisive, deceitful and downright unnecessary."

Damon Circosta, executive director for the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, said that he agrees that elections need to be secure but said that House Bill 351 was not the way to secure them.

"There are other ways we can take to increase security, but this voter ID bill, the way it's written, is not going to get you anymore security and very well may cost people the right to vote," Circosta said.