Tillis: Fraud 'not the primary reason' for voter ID push

State House Speaker Thom Tillis appeared on MSNBC Saturday afternoon to defend N.C. Republicans' push for a photo voter ID. He said the primary reason for the measure is to restore voter confidence, not document cases of actual fraud.

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Laura Leslie

State House Speaker Thom Tillis signaled what could be a change in messaging on voter ID Saturday – and dropped some hints about the details of upcoming legislation – during an appearance on MSNBC.

The left-leaning news channel might not seem like an intuitive choice for an appearance by Tillis, a Republican, but MSNBC has spent much of the day covering the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

Tillis was invited to appear to address his party's push for a photo voter ID law in North Carolina.

MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin quizzed Tillis about the scant evidence of actual voter fraud in the state, citing data from the State Board of Elections showing 310 documented cases of improper voting out of more than 4 million votes cast in 2008.   

"There is some evidence of voter fraud, but that's not the primary reason for doing this," Tillis told Melvin.

"We call this restoring confidence in government," Tillis said. "There are a lot of people who are just concerned with the potential risk of fraud."

He added a voter ID law "would make nearly three-quarters of the population more comfortable and more confident when they go to the polls." 

Public opinion polls regularly find high levels of support for voter ID among North Carolinians of both parties. An October WRAL News poll found 69 percent of registered voters would like to see a photo ID requirement put in place. A February Elon University Poll found support for voter ID at 72 percent statewide, with more than half of all Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans backing the idea.

Tillis said the legislation, which has not yet been made public, "also allows for expired drivers' licenses of senior citizens to be used, for college IDs as well as other government-issued IDs."

The types of identification the proposed law would accept haven't yet been publicly discussed. The bill isn't expected to be filed until next week.

The speaker also dismissed as "mostly ideological" warnings about disenfranchisement from critics, including state NAACP President Rev. William Barber.

Instead, Tillis suggested, the proposal might actually help voters who currently have no ID.

"There are a lot of people – young people and elders – who do not have IDs, and this measure provides broad access to IDs at no cost," he said. 

Tillis spoke to MSNBC from Charlotte.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is attending CPAC. Both he and Tillis are considering runs for the GOP nomination for Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's seat in 2014. Gov. Pat McCrory reportedly attended a fundraiser for Tillis Friday night in Charlotte.

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