Is adopting a law requiring photo identification for North Carolinians to vote a common sense solution to voter fraud that has become – unnecessarily – highly politicized?
Or is it an effort that would put an undue burden on North Carolinians’ right to vote, a burden that would disproportionately affect the poor and minorities?
Both views were put forth Wednesday during a panel discussion on voter ID sponsored by the Raleigh Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society.
Two proponents of voter ID laws – John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky – took the position that such laws protect the integrity of the ballot and do not pose an undue burden on a citizen’s right to vote.
Two opponents of such laws – Bob Hall and Allison Riggs – disagreed, questioning the need for such a law and arguing that it, along with other changes to voting laws, would make voting less accessible.
Hall is executive director of Democracy North Carolina. Riggs is a voting rights staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Fund is a national affairs columnist for National Review. Von Spakovsky is senior legal fellow for the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation.
The Republican majority in the General Assembly is expected to push through a voter ID bill this year. Two years ago, a voter ID bill was vetoed by then Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. Now, Republican Pat McCrory sits in the governor’s office.
“I think this issue of voter identification … sadly has become far more politicized and far more partisan than it needs to be,” Fund said. Fund noted that in some states, voter ID bills have been sponsored and championed by Democrats and by African-American legislators.
Fund said that in some larger cities, machine politics have led to bad schools and bad government services.
“The machine will suppress opposition and in some cases even steal votes,” Fund said.
Hall linked the efforts to establish voter ID in North Carolina to the vestiges of minority voter suppression in the 1960s.
Hall spoke of time spent in Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. “I remember the day when people would tell me, bragging, that we don’t have a single Negro here who is registered to vote,” Hall said.
He said that the photo ID bill was just one piece to limit voting accessibility, pointing to efforts to scale back early voting, eliminate same-day registration at early voting sites, and eliminate voting on Sundays.
“In North Carolina, we have a constitutional right to vote,” Hall said. “It’s not like buying a pack of cigarettes, or buying Sudafed.”
Riggs said that the voter ID requirement would be restrictive to hundreds of thousands of voters.
“For democracy to flourish, voting needs to be free, fair and accessible,” Riggs said.
Riggs also said some types of voter fraud would not be prevented by requiring a photo ID. For example, she said it would not prevent an individual from voting twice or prevent convicted felons from voting.
Von Spakovsky said that many of the claims of voter suppression have not materialized in other states that have adopted voter ID laws.
Turnout among both African-American and Hispanic voters increased after such a law took effect in Georgia, von Spakovsky said.
“It clearly did not keep them out of the polls,” von Spakovsky said.
Von Spakovsky also was critical of a recent State Board of Elections analysis in which the board was unable to show a match with the Division of Motor Vehicles for 612,955 registered voters.
He suggested a number of reasons the records may not have matched, including women changing their name because of a change in their marital status or voters moving to another location or dying. Those voters could have passports or military IDs, which would be acceptable IDs to vote but not included in the DMV database, von Spakovsky said.
“If you take all these factors into account, it probably drops to almost nothing,” he said.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who attended Wednesday’s forum, has said that the GOP majority plans to push through a voter ID bill this year. And that bill will include a requirement of a photo ID, he said.
Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.