N.C. voter ID bill gets final House approval

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — N.C. House Republicans completed their part Thursday in passing legislation that demands people show photo identification before they enter a voting booth, but it still looks a few votes short of canceling any potential veto by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.

After two hours of passionate debate over perceptions of voter security and suppression, sprinkled with questions about partisan motives, the GOP-led House gave its final approval.

The 66-48 vote, however, indicates the measure might not become law this year even if the Senate passes it next because Thursday’s margin falls a few votes shy of overcoming any potential veto. Perdue’s office has been critical of the legislation, and Democrats and voting rights advocates have called it a veiled method to suppress voting among blacks, older adults and women.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said the measure is about responding to complaints from constituents worried about illegal voting. Republicans made voter ID a part of their campaign platform last fall as they took control of both the House and N.C. Senate for the first time in 140 years.

“This is going to give them the confidence to know the votes they cast will go against their name,” said N.C. Rep. Ric Killian, R-Mecklenburg, one of the bill’s chief sponsors. “The requirements to prove who you are, according to this bill, are the same for all citizens.”

Democrats argue voter ID legislation, called “Restore Confidence in Government,” is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist and would cost the state millions of dollars to implement. They say the incidence of fraud is rare: The State Board of Elections referred 43 cases of potential fraud to district attorneys in 2008 and 21 in 2010. It’s already a felony for someone to vote using someone else’s name.

Democrats aren’t sold on Republicans’ insistence that motives behind the bill are nonpartisan. GOP leaders in other states are pushing similar legislation.

President Obama won the state’s electoral votes by about 14,000 votes in 2008, ending a 32-year winning streak for Republican nominees in North Carolina. About 147,100 active black voters do not have photo ID, according to election reform group Democracy North Carolina.

“The circumstantial evidence is very strong,” said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange.

Black lawmakers referred to the efforts by civil rights leaders to protect voting rights after decades of Jim Crow-era restrictions to plead with Republicans to oppose the bill they say will quell voter participation.

“This is part of an organized national strategy to find a way to disenfranchise voters to oppose you at the polls, there is no other purpose,” said Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven, who is black. “This bill is partisan politics at its worst. This is not restoring confidence in government. You are increasing suspicion of government.”

The bill is modeled on a 2006 law in Georgia, which has been upheld by the courts. Republicans say Georgia saw a higher increase in voter turnout among black voters during the 2008 election compared to black voters in North Carolina.

“When the election is fair, the votes are cast fairly, it protects everyone,” said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, another bill sponsor. “It just doesn’t protect one side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle. It protects everyone equally.”

Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said in a prepared statement “the governor has strong concerns about making it harder for certain eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote. The time for that is long gone in North Carolina; we are better than that.”

The bill would demand a voter provide one of eight forms of photo ID, from state-issued driver’s licenses to U.S. passports and military IDs, as well as new, free voter cards that would be generated by county elections boards. A person who doesn’t have a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot and go later to county elections officials to prove their identity. The Division of Motor Vehicles also would issue special non-driver ID cards for free to people who don’t have another form of identification.

The state has about 556,000 registered voters who don’t have identification issued by DMV, but it’s unclear how many of them have alternative forms of qualifying IDs, according to researchers who work for the General Assembly.

N.C. Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said he has experienced voter fraud. Cleveland said that one of his sons was recorded in registration rolls as voting in two consecutive election cycles, even though his son lived in Virginia.

“You can tell me there’s no voter fraud in the state of North Carolina,” Cleveland said. “I personally know better.”

Twelve states now have laws that require or request photo identification of voters, while 16 others require ID without a photo, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.