Opposition mounts against voter ID bill

by Keith Barber

Mitchell Brown (second from left), a senior at NC A&T University, addresses members of the media during a press conference regarding a proposed voter ID bill at the NC General Assembly on Feb. 16. (photo courtesy of Common Cause North Carolina)

A proposed voter ID measure that is currently being crafted by state Republicans is generating a backlash from a number of groups, including the NC Democratic Party, the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and students from the state’s historically black colleges and universities.

The voter ID bill, a component of the NC Republican Party’s 100-day legislative agenda, would require voters to show a valid photo ID before casting their ballot in local, state and national elections.

On Feb. 16, Mitchell Brown, a member of the NC A&T Student Government Association, traveled to Raleigh with a contingent of fellow A&T students to persuade members of the Guilford County delegation to oppose the bill. The A&T students represented one of several groups from the state’s historically black colleges and universities present at the NC General Assembly. During meetings with legislators, it became clear that opposition and support for the bill fell mostly along party lines, Brown said.

A senior business and economics major from Fredericksburg, Va., Brown spoke during an afternoon press conference at the General Assembly, along with a number of other college students. During his remarks, Brown questioned the priorities of legislators who support the voter ID bill considering the state’s current budget shortfall.

“The 221,000-plus UNC system students are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see if their tuition is going to rise as well as waiting to see if their favorite professor is be fired, and this is a top priority for the NC General Assembly,” Brown said. “The question remains ‘why’? The amount of voter fraud is statistically insignificant.”

Brown said if the bill becomes law, it would create voter apathy among the 300,000-plus college students across the state attending both private and public institutions.

An analysis published by the Durham-based Institute for Southern Studies concluded that the proposed voter ID measure would also be expensive. The analysis project the cost the state at more than $20 million over the next three years, which would only deepen the state’s projected $3.7 billion budget shortfall.

“Even in good times, voter ID laws were suspect given the miniscule number of voter impersonation cases and the unnecessary barriers they pose to many voters,” said Chris Kromm, director of Institute, in a press release. “Now, with North Carolina poised to eliminate 18,000 teaching jobs due to the budget crisis, such an expensive bill would seem nearly impossible to justify.”

Earlier this month, the NC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) provided the State Board of Elections with data on its nearly 7.5 million DMV customers, including more than 6.1 million registered voters. The State Board of Elections confirmed there are more than one million voter records that do not exactly match the DMV records or there are is no known record of a DMV-issued ID in either database.

The State Board of Elections provided the DMV with those 334,651voter records for further analysis and found that 329,017 voters’ licenses were revoked or expired, 5627 voters’ licenses are confirmed valid, and 7 voters had license information on their voter record that could not be identified by the DMV.

Critics worry that up to a million North Carolina voters would face a significant obstacle to casting their ballots if the voter ID bill is passed.

NC House Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth) said he does not “buy the statistics” that the State Board of Elections is reporting on the number of people who would need to obtain a photo ID if the bill becomes law. However, Folwell admits he could be one of the people who would have to acquire a state-issued ID because the address on his driver’s license does not match the address on his voter registration. Still, he supports the measure because he believes the state’s voting system is outdated and citizens are justifiably concerned about voter fraud.

“There is no more sacred thing we can do as a citizen is vote and the fact that there is a higher standard for writing a check for groceries at the Harris Teeter than there is for voting is tragic,” Folwell said. “I don’t have any issue with any college student voting, regardless of their race, as long as they vote once. The voting process just has to be fair and legal. If there’s anything that deserves to have integrity through it, it’s that.”

Folwell pointed out that state law allows for anyone who wishes to purchase a photo ID from the DMV to do so. Bob Garner, communications director for the NC AARP, said a voter ID law that would require many seniors to obtain a photo ID at a cost of $10 places an undue burden on the elderly population. Garner also questioned whether voter fraud was the real reason behind the bill.

“We represent people 50 and above and voter fraud is just not a problem with people 50 and above — it’s miniscule,” Garner said. “I’m all for fraud prevention but voter fraud is not the intent here. That’s the window dressing they’re putting on it.”

Ultimately, the voter ID bill amounts to a 21st century poll tax, Brown said.

“My forefathers and foremothers had to face a poll tax,” said Brown, who is African American. “Obstacles are being created to suppress voting and that’s a shame.”

North Carolina Democratic Party Chair David Parker characterized the proposed measure as “Jim Crow” for seniors, students, and disabled citizens.

“Anyone who knows the history of voter disenfranchisement knows how laws like this keep people from voting,” Parker said in a statement. “It takes the marginalized and shoves them deeper into the shadows. With this law, a homebound senior can go from isolated to completely erased. It’s the ultimate civic cruelty, to wipe someone from the voter rolls.”