House moves on Voter ID

The NC House Elections committee voted along straight party lines this afternoon to approve H351, the Voter ID bill.

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Voter ID debate heats up
Laura Leslie
The House Elections committee voted on straight party lines this afternoon to approve H351, the Voter ID bill. The latest version of the measure, available here, would require all voters to show approved photo identification at the polls.

Voters who don’t have an approved form of identification would be able to get a photo ID card at the state’s expense. That could be as many as 880,000 people, according to state estimates. But supporters of the bill expect it to be much lower.

The number of cards needed would be lessened by changes made in the latest version of the bill. Voters would be able to use out-of-state driver’s licenses, or expired licenses, even if the ID doesn’t reflect their current address.

It’s not clear how much the measure will cost. The fiscal analysis says the price tag could be anywhere from $195,000 to $3.5 million a year. Sponsor Rick Killian, R-Mecklenburg, thinks the real cost will be closer to the low end of that range, but “It’s fair to say it would have a fiscal impact.”

“Nobody really knows,” added committee chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett.  

Lewis says Georgia, where a similar law was enacted a few years ago, has nearly the same number of registered voters as North Carolina. Georgia has only had to issue about 24,000 IDs, and has spent less than $800,000 since 2006 to fully implement the law.

Cost is just one of many complaints about the bill from its Democratic opponents.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, says the bill will result in fewer people voting. Some won’t know they need to bring a photo ID to the polls on Election Day. Others won’t have the time or ability or resources to get an ID from the state. Those voters are more likely to be elderly, disabled, low-income, and/or minority voters.

“We’re gonna have to go through extra steps in order to get a constitutional franchise that everybody’s entitled to,” Michaux said. “You are in the process of trying to disenfranchise about a million people.”

“There is no intention whatsoever to disenfranchise anyone,” Killian countered. “The requirement to prove your identity is the same for all citizens in this state. It does not single out any group.”

But Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, disagreed. “This bill has a disproportionate impact on older citizens of NC because they are less likely to have a photo ID than any other group.”

“Basically, this bill is going to put out a whole bunch of little old ladies,” Ross continued. “This is a farce.”

While the bill would make it more difficult to vote in person, it would make it easier to vote absentee by mail. That’s the only method of voting for which the state has any documented history of organized fraud. Absentee voters wouldn’t have to provide any ID at all, aside from their signature. “If anything, the effect of this bill on voter fraud will be to increase it,” Ross said.

The committee also heard testimony from Johnnie McLean, the deputy director of the State Board of Elections.

McLean testified that the Board had found three cases of double voting or impersonation with evidence of wrongdoing out of 3.5 million votes in the 2004 election, 2 cases out of 2 million in 2006, 4 cases out of 4.3 million in 2008, and 14 cases out of 2.7 million votes in the 2010 election.

Killian argued those numbers don’t tell the whole story. He says “hundreds of cases” of voter fraud go unreported. “This bill will restore public confidence in our election system,” he said.

Chairman David Lewis said he had tried to negotiate with the bill’s critics to address their concerns. “I’ve had numerous meetings with various interest groups,” he said.

Among the changes discussed was removing the requirement for photo ID. But that change wasn’t made in today’s bill. “In the end, no matter what the bill’s sponsors did, we could not get a guarantee of support from Democrats,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you just reach issues where your caucuses won’t agree.”

The measure’s next stop is House Appropriations, expected early next week.


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