Voter ID law sparks debate
If the law passes, North Carolina will join 27 states that currently require voters to present identification before casting a ballot. While Republicans argue that the law would reduce election fraud, Democrats say the legislation would cause declined voter turnout.
"I'm definitely in favor of it," said Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a co-sponsor of the bill.
"When there's fraud in the system," Sen. Dan Soucek said, "that's where you have disenfranchisement."
But outspoken critics, including Chris Kromm of the Institute of Southern Studies, said his nonpartisan group released a study in February that showed Voter ID legislation could cost the state $20 million.
"This was one of the first studies to look at the fiscal notes, which are the cost estimates that states use when they are considering a voter ID bill," he said.
ISS looked at legislation in places like Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin.
"What's interesting is that most of those fiscal notes estimated costs at much more than what is being discussed for North Carolina, even though we have more voters," he said.
ISS broke down the cost into three areas: voter education, the cost of informing voters about the changes; paying for the actual IDs; and the implementation costs "which usually get passed along to local boards."
But local officials don't anticipate increased costs locally, were Voter ID Law to come into play.
"The first election will be tough just in training people to make sure they have the identification," Watauga Board of Elections director Jane Hodges said, "but a lot of people here already bring their identification when they come to vote and they're prepared now. It won't really affect our costs."
"That hasn't been the experience of local boards in other states," he said.
He cites changes to provisional ballots and websites as two factors that could up local costs, and said the legislation may end up costing more than the $20 million.
"That seems awfully high to me," Jordan said. "Bill sponsors were talking (Tuesday) that it might be $5 to $7 million ... The problem is, we don't know the exact numbers yet of people who do not have any sort of ID, but something has to be done to ensure we don't have voter fraud," he said.
But is fraud a problem in North Carolina?
According to nonpartisan Democracy NC, only five votes per million cast in North Carolina from 2004 to 2010 involved fraud that a Voter ID law would have stopped.
But any voter fraud, Jordan said, is disenfranchising.
"If voters think there is fraud then they don't feel good about the whole government," he said.
Democracy NC numbers don't surprise ASU political science professor Craig Burnett.
"The argument for (Voter ID Law) has always been voter fraud, but the states that may be typically not subject to these voter fraud issues," he said, "they're the ones that have been pushing for the legislation."
He questions the constitutionality as well as the politics.
"It's also a political game where this allows individuals to challenge votes a bit more easily if there happens to be a close election," he said. "States that tend to be in flux as to what their party identification is, this can be a more strategic move."
And, with the state's flip to blue in the 2008 presidential election, every little bit counts.
"There's also a historical element," he said. "The Voter ID Law harkens back to things that used to be in the south, the Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes and literacy tests, though it's certainly a much milder version of it."
Minority groups may be the most affected, Democracy Now states. Their reports indicate that, while African-Americans make up 22 percent of active voters, they also make up 32 percent of voters without a current photo ID.
"And, if you add another time layer to registration people might not go through with that process and that does tend to go toward lower economic groups," he said.
As for seniors, Democracy NC reports that 32 percent of those without a photo ID are senior citizens.
Another local concern involves the college population. Local Young Democrats chair Jennifer Conley fears college IDs won't be adequate and the bill would jeopardize the college vote.
"I am from a different county," she said, "and my state-issued driver's license has my address from Union County, but my voter legislation has my legal address in Watauga County. They would see the discrepancy and I might not be able to vote."
The current wording of the bill implies that any state-issued ID would suffice, including IDs from public schools like Appalachian State University, but Connely fears the semantics won't hold.
IDs from private schools like Lees-McRae College would not be adequate under the current provisions.
A driver's license alone for voter verification wouldn't work for college students who change their address every time they move to a different dorm room.
"They would have to pay out of pocket," she said. "State law is only going to pay for ids for people who don't currently have one, not for people who have to change their addresses."
She calls the legislation redundant.
"When you go to register for the first time, you already have to present your driver's license number or your Social Security card as proof of who you are when you fill out the registration form," she said. "Why should we continuously have to prove who we are each time we want to vote?"
The Young Democrats have found an unlikely ally, at least in their wish to uncomplicated the college vote.
"We don't want to discourage students or anybody who wants to vote," Soucek said.
He is pushing to keep college IDs in the legislation, calling the Young Democrats' concerns "valid."
"I think this can be done in a way that makes our elections cleaner," he said.
And that's what he told Young Democrats when he met with them earlier this month.
"There does have to be some standard on the issued ids," he said. "That's where the challenge is going to be is how inclusive we can be."
But he promised to fight for the student vote.
"Yes," he said. "I definitely will."
To College Republicans chair Anthony Riccio, it's "not a deal breaker."
"I'm 100 percent for (Voter ID Law)," he said.
Soucek says it's about balance.
"We want everybody who is legally able to vote to be able to vote, but when you have people who are not legal that's what disfranchises people," he said. "Anything we can do to try to get as much voter fraud out of the system is great."
And, while he would prefer college ids to work across the board, he said the most important thing is passing the bill.
"I remember when I first turned 18 and I went to vote," he said. "I walked in and they asked me for my name and my address and that's it and I thought, 'Well, could I just come back tomorrow and give someone else's name and address?' How hard is it to look up someone's name and address in the phone book?"
And he questions the motives of the bill's critics.
"Anybody who is going to argue against it is just playing party and is not really fighting for what's right," he said.
The bill, which passed its first reading in the house, was referred to the committee on elections.
Look up House Bill 351, titled Restore Confidence in Government on ncleg.net.