News: CJ Exclusives

Friday Interview: The Need for Voter ID in North Carolina

Heritage Foundation expert punctures myths about photo requirements

Polls consistently show that North Carolinians favor a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. State lawmakers approved a bill this year to put that requirement in place, but Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed that bill. Still, the idea isn’t going away. Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow and manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, discussed the benefits of voter ID with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)

Kokai: Most people seem to like this idea, and you think it’s a great idea as well. Why?

von Spakovsky: Well, because part of having a fair election is making sure that the person who shows up at the poll to vote is actually the person they say they are. And you know, opponents — really, it’s very hard to understand why they are against that. You know, Americans overwhelmingly support it, as you say, and it’s because they know, you know, to buy a beer they have to have photo ID, to get a library card. Overwhelmingly, Americans have photo ID, like driver’s licenses. [You] can’t get on an airplane without it. When I travel Amtrak, you’re supposed to have a photo ID. There are all these basic reasons for it, and that’s why Americans support it. They realize this is common-sense reform.

Kokai: I think a lot of people who are new to North Carolina and North Carolina elections will go to the polls and be surprised to learn they don’t have to show photo ID.

von Spakovsky: That’s right.

Kokai: How common is this in other states?

von Spakovsky: Well, about half the states — and the number is growing — have some form of identification. The number of states that require a government-issued photo ID is now up to, I think, probably eight or nine. We keep having states pass it. But, I mean, that’s something that really every state should do. Because you know, we are, I think, the only Western democracy that doesn’t uniformly require a photo ID at the polling place.

Kokai: What sorts of problems are created when you don’t have this confidence that the people who go to the polls are who they say they are?

von Spakovsky: One of the things the opponents will say is that, well, there’s no need for this because impersonation fraud rarely happens, and that’s all this is good for. That is actually not true in two respects. First of all, there are proven cases of impersonation fraud. But second, photo ID doesn’t just prevent impersonation fraud at the polls — people, you know, voting in the names of dead voters or voters who have moved. It also can prevent voting under fictitious voter registrations. And anyone who’s followed ACORN for the last couple of years — you know, they’ve had dozens of their employees convicted for submitting fraudulent voter registration forms. It’s great that those were actually caught by election officials, but we don’t know how many fraudulent forms get through the process. There actually have been prosecuted cases of people voting under fictitious voter registration forms. The other thing that it does, it can prevent double voting by people who are registered in more than one state. There are cases proven of that. And the other thing that’s very important these days when we have — I think it’s estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the United States — is that requiring a government-issued photo ID can prevent illegal aliens from registering and voting. And again, there are proven cases of that all over the country.

Kokai: You’ve already touched on some of the issues that the critics bring up. Let’s touch on some others.

von Spakovsky: Sure.

Kokai: One of the main ones we’ve heard in North Carolina is this would be bad for the poor, the elderly, other people who might not have a driver’s license. This would somehow set up or erect a new barrier to voting, and it’s a way to keep people away from the polls. What do you think about this argument?

von Spakovsky: That’s a completely bogus argument, and it’s been disproven in the courts, it’s been disproven in the polling place, and it’s been disproven in the public arena — public opinion. I mean, first of all, let’s start with the last one first. Voters overwhelmingly support photo ID, and the polls show that goes across all racial, ethnic, and age lines. So that includes African-Americans, Hispanics — they all support this. I don’t think they would support it if they thought it would keep them from going to the polls.

Second, Georgia and Indiana, for example, have the two strictest photo ID laws in the country. Look, there were lawsuits filed in those cases by the NAACP, the ACLU — all the same groups making these very same claims in North Carolina. They lost. They lost those cases. And in both cases, Indiana and Georgia, the federal courts made a point of saying in their decisions that after years of litigation, and after making these claims that there were hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t have photo ID, in both cases, none of the organizations that sued could find a single individual who didn’t have either photo ID or couldn’t easily get one under the free access to photo ID that the state set up. And that included the NAACP. In the Georgia case, they couldn’t find a single member of the NAACP who didn’t have a photo ID.

Also, if you look at the elections held in states with photo ID, like Georgia and Indiana, contrary to what the critics say, turnout in those states went up dramatically in the ’08 election. In fact, it went up more, increased more in those states than in some states without photo ID. And, in fact, the statistics that I’ve seen on turnout data show that the turnout, for example, of African-Americans went up significantly in Georgia. Also the same thing happened in Indiana. So the effects that people say will happen, they haven’t occurred.

Kokai: You mentioned the results in other states. Is there anything about the law that North Carolina pursued that would make it much different, or would North Carolina’s be a lot like the other states that have had success with this?

von Spakovsky: No, North Carolina’s is just like most of the other states. You know, they accept U.S. passports, state-issued driver’s licenses, and photo IDs — military IDs, tribal government IDs. I mean, those are all within the same kinds of requirements of the other states. So North Carolina’s is really not any different, and, in fact, North Carolina ought to go further and take the second step that other states like Georgia and Arizona have taken, which is, not just photo ID when you go to vote, but providing proof of citizenship when you register to vote. That’s the other big step states should be taking.

Kokai: North Carolina lawmakers agree. They’ve already passed a bill on this, but it was vetoed. There may be some opportunities to try to override the veto again or take this up in a future legislature. How important is it for North Carolina to take some step at the earliest possible opportunity to put voter ID, photo ID, in place?

von Spakovsky: I think the answer to that is to look at what the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld Indiana’s photo ID law — what the Supreme Court said. And by the way, you know, this was not a 5-4 decision, as some people might expect — [from] the conservative majority. Actually, it was a 6-3 decision, and the main decision was written by Justice John Paul Stevens, who is one of the liberal stalwarts of the Supreme Court. But the plaintiffs in that case tried to say, “Look, there’s just no voter fraud. [It] doesn’t occur in the United States.” Well, obviously, Justice Stevens, that argument didn’t carry much weight with him, given the fact that he was a professional attorney in Chicago before he became a Supreme Court justice. You can see why. But what the court said, what Stevens said, was, “Look, the U.S. has a long history of voter fraud. It’s been documented by journalists and historians throughout the country, and it still occurs, and it could make a difference in a close election.”