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Same-day voting registration raises concerns, support in Senate

by Jordan Green

Following the NC House’s approval of a bill that would allow same-day registration and voting, action moves to the Senate, where Democrats are sponsoring the legislation and the Republican leadership is expressing reservations.

The 66-45 House vote on March 29 came as a victory for Democracy North Carolina, a Carrboro group that has organized public support for streamlining voting, advocates public financing of elections, and helped bring down former Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, who recently pled guilty on federal and state corruption charges.

“I think it’s different philosophical approaches among the political parties,” said Anthony Khamala, a field organizer for the group. “Our philosophy is, Get the big money out and more voters in.”

The House legislation, which has been endorsed by groups ranging from the League of Women Voters to the state NAACP, was cosponsored by all four Democratic members of the Guilford County delegation: Alma Adams, Pricey Harrison, Maggie Jeffus and Earl Jones. The two Republicans in the delegation, John Blust of Greensboro and Laura Wiley of High Point, voted against it.

If approved, the measure would allow voters who miss the registration deadline 25 days before an election to register and vote at one time at One-Stop Early Voting Sites. To register, a voter would provide proof of residency to a local election official, complete a registration form and sign a statement under penalty of perjury that the person is a US citizen and that their home address is listed correctly. Early voting typically takes place for about two weeks until the Saturday before Election Day.

The proposed legislation allows voters to provide a utility bill, paycheck stub or bank statement as proof of residency in place of photo ID. To guard against fraud, county boards of elections and the state Board of Elections would be required to verify the voter’s Social Security number within two days and search for possible duplications.

One person who came away from the House vote disappointed was Blust, who was among a group of Republican lawmakers whose proposed amendments to the legislation got voted down largely along party lines.

“Somebody or masses of people can just show up and vote without proper identification and there are not the right checks and balances to make sure they are who they say they are,” he said. “The people pushing it fought every attempt to require people voting to show some ID. It seems to me most people would not have a problem with showing ID. I think you’re just going to have more and more elections called into question.”

Blust raised the prospect of undocumented immigrants showing up with a household bill and lying about their citizenship status to fraudulently vote.

“I don’t think this will be driven by individual people saying they want to vote illegally,” he said. “I think this would be driven by people running for office or people backing political candidates. There’s little prospect of being caught. There’s already walking-around money out there. That’s been proven in Chicago…. I don’t know that much has been proved so far, but that’s no reason to be lax with your security. I haven’t had any burglaries in my neighborhood because it’s a new subdivision, but I’m still going to lock my door.”

Khamala said he believes fears that same-day registration would open the door to fraud are overblown.

“The whole issue of voter fraud is more myth than reality,” he said. “The whole saga of the [fired] US Attorneys – a couple of them were being asked to investigate for fraud and they looked into it and found there wasn’t much to it. [Critics] are like, ‘What if someone steals your identity?’ Probably the last thing you want to do is go out and vote. You probably want to go out and get someone’s credit card.”

The state’s top election official told Rep. Deborah Ross, the Democratic Majority Whip and a primary sponsor of the bill, that he believes same-day registration and voting would reduce administrative burden without increasing the likelihood of fraud.

“Thousands of provisional ballots are now cast on Election Day, which imposes a significant burden of work on officials at a crucial time,” Board of Elections Executive Director Gary Bartlett wrote on Feb. 15. “The states that use same-day registration have learned that [they] simplify the process and eliminate the need for a portion of provisional ballots. In fact, officials from these states say the procedures reduce the overall administrative burden (e.g. reducing the expense of researching provisional ballots) and produce a more reliable voter registration database, without adding a higher incidence of fraud.”

Bartlett added, “I believe we can preserve the security and integrity of the election process and provide additional access for citizens who miss the registration deadline.”

Khamala said same-day registration and voting would bring more young voters and low-income voters into the political process.

“The people who it does favor are students and younger people,” he said. “The voter turnout is eighteen percent higher for people between eighteen and twenty-four in the seven states that had same-day registration in 2004.

“The other thing we find is that people with lower incomes are not as politically aware, but we don’t want to punish people for their lack of political education,” he added. “Say you move from Asheboro to Greensboro and you see billboards and TV ads in the last couple weeks of the election, and you say, ‘Maybe I should vote.’ And you go to the board of election, but by that time it’s too late.”

Increasing voter turnout for the poor and the young would not necessarily translate into a partisan advantage for the Democratic Party, Khamala said.

“Look at the different states where there is same-day registration and see who’s governor and who controls the legislature. There are red states like Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Also Minnesota and Wisconsin are blue states. It just depends on who is more organized and better at mobilizing their bases.”

The bill was referred to the Senate Select Committee on Government and Election Reform on April 2. In an open letter posted on the state Republican Party website, House Minority Leader Paul Stam urged his Senate colleagues to closely scrutinize the legislation.

“Same-day registration, without identification, strains the ability of local and state board of elections to do their jobs in a timely manner,” he wrote. “I strongly urge the Senate to act cautiously on this change.”

His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Phil Berger of Eden, indicated in a March 27 statement that he supports the idea of streamlining voter registration, but not requiring photo ID could be a deal-breaker.

“Everyone is required to present photo identification to board a plane, purchase some non-prescription medications, purchase alcohol or cigarettes, and even to rent a movie,” the statement reads. “The security of our ballots is much more important. I do not believe we should farm out the voter identification process to utility companies, banks or temporary employment agencies…. Voting is a key component of our democratic institutions; we should have procedures in place that instill confidence in our election results.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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