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Voter ID: Partisanship or common sense?

Posted March 15, 2011 7:19 p.m. EDT
Updated March 15, 2011 8:36 p.m. EDT

It was standing-room only in House Elections today for the public comment period on H351, the Voter ID proposal.   There was a lot of passion, some strong words and the occasional outbreak of applause, politely squelched by Chairman David Lewis. But overall, it went pretty smoothly. 

Contrary to fears some Democrats had expressed, the procession of 43 speakers seemed pretty evenly divided between opponents and supporters of the proposal. It was clear both sides had done some organizing work to get their people there.

"Nakedly partisan"

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Joe Hackney called H351 a “nakedly partisan” bill that would disproportionately affect older, younger, low-income and minority voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats. “It’s about voter suppression,” he said bluntly. 

Many of this afternoon’s opponents delivered variations on that theme, including state NAACP President Rev. William Barber. “It is ridiculous, it is regressive, it is wrong, and it is a political form of racism and classism," Barber told the committee. "We need to stop this foolishness in the People’s House and work on jobs and education and the things that really matter.”

Retiree Dr. Martha Carmichael from Chapel Hill said no one’s asked her for a photo ID in 30 years. “I’m almost 80. I live in an old folks’ home,” she said. “Half the people where I live walk on walkers. We have a 90 percent voting record.” But if the ID requirement is enacted, she warned, “That will change… I know what this is really about.”

The afternoon’s harshest words came from Democracy NC director Bob Hall, who called the bill “as phony as a three-dollar bill. It’s a sham. It’s a political trick.” He says there's far more evidence of absentee voter fraud than in-person fraud in NC, but H351 doesn't address that. And, he added, the measure’s various reform provisions are "contorted in a way that has partisan advantage. The people of NC can do better than this bill.”

Several other speakers criticized the speed at which the bill moved from introduction to debate – less than 24 hours. Damon Circosta with the NC Center for Voter Education said rushing the bill wouldn’t inspire public confidence in the process. “For those of us that think there are shenanigans aplenty down here already, this just adds to the skepticism.”

"Common sense"

Supporters of the voter ID provision had some strong words for the lawmakers, too.

Don Wendelken reminded lawmakers that photo ID is required in NC to drive, drink, smoke, fly, get a job, cash a check, and buy insurance. “A lot of times in these debates, emotion just gets carried away,” he said. “Put your common-sense hats on.”

“Present election law makes voting too easy,” argued Louis Stannard, who told the committee the reason people don’t vote is because they believe the system is rigged. “One case of voter fraud, that’s one too many,” he said. “What better way to respect your vote than to protect your vote with a voter law that has teeth?”

Several supporters voiced concerns about voting by illegal immigrants, including Lynn West of Washington County. She also said dead people had voted in the county’s last elections. To those who don’t think voter fraud is a problem, West said, “Come on down to Washington County and let me show you around.”

And Civitas President Francis DeLuca told lawmakers that polling conducted by his organization shows overwhelming support for voter ID among all parties and all races. He says it’s a “common-sense” development in a rapidly growing state. “This is not a partisan issue. At least, not to the voters.”

Voice your opinion

Elections Committee Chairman David Lewis announced at today’s meeting he’s reopening the link for electronic public comments. You can submit your input on voter ID here. Lewis says they’ll review comments before they return to debate on the measure next Wednesday at 1:00pm.