Friday, April 5, 2013

Vote IDs and vote suppression in North Carolina

Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly have agreed upon a bill to require a photo ID to register to vote or cast a ballot in North Carolina. With a majority in both chambers, the GOP seems assured of passing a bill similar to the one Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed last year.

I'm an agnostic on voter IDs. On the one hand, I see nothing wrong with requiring a voter to prove he is who he claims to be. I've heard numerous young, first-time voters express deep shock when they discover they are not required to produce an ID to cast a ballot. They had to produce an ID to cash a check, to buy beer, to rent a movie, etc. Why isn't an ID needed to vote?

The proposal before the legislature would provide some work-arounds to satisfy the objections to past voter ID bills. Non-drivers will be able to get a picture ID from the Division of Motor Vehicles for $10, and that $10 is waived for anyone saying the cost would be a financial burden. The elderly will be able to use an outdated or expired ID (hang onto your old driver's license, Granny).

Requiring a photo ID won't come cheap, however. It has been reported that compliance with photo ID rules cost the state of Georgia $1.7 million over the past seven years. There being no evidence of widespread voter fraud in this state, you have to wonder if all of this rigamarole is worth the cost. Aren't the Republicans all in favor of more efficient government and against wasteful spending?

I'll give the supporters of this bill the benefit of the doubt against arguments that voter ID bills are nothing more than vote suppression aimed at reducing the turnout of the elderly and the poor — two constituencies that are not likely to vote Republican. Let's assume that they really are concerned about the validity of the vote and want to discourage voter fraud.

On the GOP's other voter initiatives, however, I can't give them a pass. GOP legislators have also proposed reducing or eliminating early voting, limiting the number of polling places and narrowing the time available for casting ballots. These measures have only one purpose: to reduce turnout. Democrats who pushed these ballot-access initiatives have orchestrated get-out-the-vote efforts built around early voting and convenient voter registration. Instead of competing with these Democratic efforts, Republicans are trying to close off access to the polls. That, it seems to me, can be fairly categorized as vote suppression.

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