RALEIGH — Citizens and advocates admonished House Republicans on Tuesday not to push ahead with requiring people to show photo identification before casting ballots, saying the mandate would discourage black residents, older adults, students and the disabled from voting.
At a public hearing lasting about four hours, the strong majority of speakers before the House Elections Committee opposed a similar effort that the GOP majority in the General Assembly approved in 2011 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Now Gov. Pat McCrory wants a voter ID law on his desk, and fellow Republicans appear to have great leeway on how to craft a measure. But House leaders said they wanted input before introducing a bill they want to pass the chamber next month and send on to the Senate.
While many speakers praised Republican leaders for a deliberative process, they didn’t mince words at the microphone. Supporters dismissed GOP arguments that requiring photo identification at the polls would discourage voter fraud. Opponents repeatedly mentioned data showing that very few cases of fraud have occurred and the potential costs of providing ID cards to people who don’t have them or a current edition, suggesting it could cost millions of dollars.
“I’m not sure what the problem is that we’re trying to solve,” said the Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of the historically black Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Johnson and other speakers referred to the state’s history of preventing blacks from voting during the Jim Crow era, with some likening voter ID to a poll tax because of time and money spent gathering information to obtain a card. “Voter ID is not needed in North Carolina,” he said. “We must not repeat the legacy of disenfranchising voters.”
The State Board of Elections referred 43 cases of potential fraud to district attorneys in 2008 and 21 in 2010, according to board data. From 2000 through 2010, only one case of voter impersonation was referred for prosecution, the data said.
Some speakers suggested that Republicans didn’t believe much voter fraud is going on either because they haven’t challenged the outcomes of their own elections and that GOP leaders are only trying to prevent people that historically supported Democrats from voting.
The photo ID effort “will be seen by voters for what it really is — politics as usual — when we are cutting essential state services,” said Jo Nicholas, president of League of Women Voters in North Carolina.
But Guilford County Republican Party Chairman Al Bouldin said there’s been little in place to help catch people who are committing fraud. Voter ID is “a common-sense issue to ensure the integrity that your vote counts in North Carolina and the process is one that is accurate,” he told the committee.
Other speakers who endorsed the photo ID requirement said they’ve seen voter fraud in their local communities or in polling and registration data they’ve crunched themselves. A recent Elon University Poll showed more than 70 percent surveyed supported photo ID legislation.
“This is not about trying to bring back Jim Crow laws,” said Eddie Souther, a 20-year-old student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, adding he must show ID to enter the university library or take mail from a post office box. “You’re trying to say this is partisanship. This is not partisan at all.”
But other student speakers disagreed, saying they’re concerned the inability to use a university-issued photo ID to meet the potential law’s requirement could prevent them from voting in North Carolina.
Voter ID “is just another installment of superficially neutral legislation introduced by this legislature with brutal racist and classist implications on the ground,” said Prashanth Kamalakanthan, a student at Duke University.
Corye Dunn with Disability Rights of North Carolina said voter ID legislation would likely depress participation among voters with disabilities who already votes up to 15 percent less than the general population.
“People with disabilities already face barriers in voting, and we should work to eliminate barriers, not create more,” Dunn said
More than 100 people signed up to address the panel. The crowd filled the General Assembly’s largest committee room, while about 60 more people watched by closed-circuit in another committee room one floor below.