Voter ID is not voter suppression
By: Jim Longworth
In a previous column, I noted how Phil Berger and company have manipulated the system to favor Republican candidates, including making an end-run around the Supreme Court by crafting voter ID as an Amendment to our state Constitution. Like him or not, Berger’s feat is even more impressive in a year when Democrats won enough seats in the General Assembly to deny the GOP a veto-proof majority. In fact, the voter ID referendum was supported by 55 percent of North Carolina voters, and its passage brings us more in line with 30 other states, including 17 who specifically require a photo ID when voting.
Last week, Senators met inside the Capitol to flesh out details of SB 824, while outside, about 100 people gathered to protest photo voter ID. One of the speakers was former state NAACP president Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who at one point shouted, “If necessary, we’ll return this state to civil disobedience.” I am a liberal independent and a proud, card-carrying member of the NAACP, but Barber’s call for civil disobedience made me angry. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Barber and his opportunistic bombast, but last week he went too far. There are plenty of issues and policies that deserve our anger and protest, but voter ID is not one of them. Regardless of the GOP’s original intent, SB 824 in its present form, does nothing to prevent anyone from voting. On the other hand, the threats to fight voter suppression were themselves a form of voter suppression, given that over half of the people in this state voted for the photo ID amendment. The rhetoric was both ironic and divisive.
Should Barber and the rest of us be angry about voter suppression? Absolutely, and Republicans have been guilty of it for years. Their past offenses have included eliminating polling places near large blocks of black voters; limiting number of early voting days; trying to purge voter rolls of African American Democrats who failed to vote in past elections; using HB2 to trample on civil rights; and gerrymandering districts so as to minimize the number of blacks elected to state and federal offices. However, it would be inaccurate and unfair to include voter ID in this list of discriminatory practices.
According to a report by WRAL.com, under the new voter ID law; there are no less than 11 forms of identification that are acceptable, those being:
-a North Carolina driver’s license
-an ID card issued by the State Division of Motor Vehicles for non-drivers
-a United States passport
-a tribal enrollment card
-a student ID card from a University of North Carolina college
-a community college, or private college
-an employee identification card issued by a state or local government entity
-a driver’s license or ID card issued by another state if voter registration took place within 90 days of the election
-a military ID
-a veteran’s identification card issued by the Department of Veteran Affairs
-a voter ID card created by the new Senate bill
-any of the ID mentioned above cards even if they have expired, so long as the voter is at least 65 years old, and the ID expired on their 65th birthday
The new legislation also allows several exemptions for hardships and “reasonable impediments.” And, you can even opt out if you have a religious objection to having your photograph taken. In other words, the new photo voter ID requirements make it easier for everyone to comply with the law and restricts no one from voting. And, although we’ve never experienced widespread voter fraud, SB 824 will guard against any potential fraud, whether deliberate or accidental, and it will cut down on time spent processing so many provisional ballots.
No doubt many Republican legislators have attempted to enact a number of shameful shenanigans in order to retain their power, but it’s hard to criticize photo voter ID as being a partisan, discriminatory law when it leaves no one behind.
Barber can scream and threaten all he wants to about voter ID, but this is not an issue that calls for civil disobedience, because SB 824 violates no one’s civil rights.
We all need to step back, take a deep breath, and be selective about our outrage. There are plenty of things we need to fight against, but voter ID isn’t one of them.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).