ID bill sparks debate

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

North Carolina voters may be required to present photo IDs

A bill that could soon be debated in the state House is stirring strong emotions over calls to require North Carolina voters to present photo IDs at the polls.

Among the co-sponsors of House Bill 351 – which has a bill mirroring it in the Senate – is Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

Asked why he supports the bill, Cook cited “too many instances of people seeing injustices in the voting procedure.”

“I do know this: many, many people have lost faith in the voting system,” he said. “And hopefully this bill will restore that faith.”

Cook was angered by a North Carolina Democratic Party e-mail decrying the bill.

The e-mail referenced poll taxes and literacy tests that were used in the Jim Crow South to deny blacks the vote.

Cook said he sees no parallel between the bill on the table and the racist policies of yesteryear.

“I think that’s a pathetic attempt to make it all about race,” he commented. “I’m so sick of that kind of tactic. It’s just beneath them. I don’t know if they have noticed this, but we have a black president. This is not 1960 anymore. I take great umbrage at anyone saying this is about race.”

Surry Everett, a local Democratic activist, called the proposed legislation “one of the dumbest things that’s ever been thought of.”

“It would cost a great deal of money to cure a problem that doesn’t need curing,” said Everett. “It’s just not worth it financially. It’s curing a problem that does not exist. … The people that will not have voter IDs are people that may have a tendency to vote Democratic, and that’s why it’s probably being pushed.”

Kellie Harris Hopkins, Beaufort County’s elections director, said it appears the bill would require each of the state’s voters to present a valid photo ID at every election.

The bill notes this ID could be a North Carolina driver’s license, any valid state or federal identification card, a current United States passport, any state, local or federal employee identification card, a military ID card, a tribal ID card or a voter ID issued by a local board of elections.

The board-issued ID would be laminated, would feature a digital, color photo and would include pretty much the same information found a driver’s license, Hopkins related.

“Currently, if you registered by mail, voters were required to show an ID before they voted for the first time,” Hopkins pointed out. “So, some voters have been through this. … But this would be for every voter, for every election.”

Under the bill, voters who didn’t produce an ID on Election Day would be able to cast provisional ballots.

Such a ballot would be counted if the voter presented an ID to the board by canvassing day, the day local boards of elections finalize their election results.

The 11-page bill also prescribes other changes, including limiting the chairman of the State Board of Elections to two two-year terms and making candidates liable for civil penalties levied in response to violations of campaign-finance law.

Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, said vote fraud isn’t widespread in North Carolina.

“But it does happen,” McLean added.

In 2009, the state board recorded 261 cases of voting irregularities, most of which occurred in the 2008 election, McLean said.

Of those instances, 229 were referred to the appropriate district attorneys who had jurisdiction over the cases, she said.

“Many of those were from people who were convicted of felonies, and perhaps it was the timing of the conviction that caused it to look like they were still felons or maybe they had gotten some sort of an early release,” McLean stated.

In 2010, there were 14 instances of what the state board calls “double voting,” meaning the accused person allegedly voted more than one time, according to McLean.

There are around 6.2 million voters statewide, she said.

Asked whether he subscribes to the belief the bill would disproportionately affect certain segments of the population, Cook essentially said, “No.”

“Everything in life is more difficult for people who don’t have a lot of money,” he replied. “People who have large difficulties in their life, this will be more burdensome than without it. But I think that the overall good that it does outweighs the relatively small amount of extra effort among some folks.”

Everett disagreed.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said. “I think it spends money unnecessarily and it will disenfranchise a certain segment of our society.”