By Chad Nance
Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House in NC’s General Assembly, and his Voter ID team held a press conference today in Raleigh in order to announce the beginning of the legislative process that will end with a Voter ID law.
A Voter ID bill was passed by the General Assembly in the last session, but was vetoed by then Governor Bev Perdue. The veto was not presented back to the legislature for an override, due to the fact that there would not have been enough votes to successfully implement the bill.
Estimates floated internally in the NCGA show that the proposed bill will cost the state 23 million dollars. A recent law suit fought by South Carolina over their State Voter ID law cost the state $3.5million in legal fees.
Polls have been conducted in the state in attempts to show citizen support for the ID program. These polls were conducted with small samples, and don’t reveal the framing of the questions asked or if people were made aware of the financial costs required to implement the concept or the potential for voter disenfranchisement it would create. The ID program would help many lawmakers and the current Governor honor election promises and satisfy the demands of right-wing special interest groups such as ALEC and Art Pope’s Civitas Insitute.
Last year, WRAL in Raleigh quoted Bob Hall, who is the executive director of the political watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, as saying “There are about 400,000 people that do not have a photo ID,” Hall said. “Most of them are elderly, (and) they’ve stopped driving. They’re disproportionately African-American. They’re poor, more often than not.”
Many watchdog and civil rights groups believe that requiring a photo ID would only serve to stop people from exercising their right to vote. It is a fact that in repeated studies, only a handful of cases of genuine voter fraud have ever been confirmed nationwide.
Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, told WRAL that most voter fraud involves registrations, double voting or mail-in ballots. The recent incident of appointed Health and Human Services Director of Pre-K appointee Dianna Lightfoot’s fraudulent voter registration highlights the lack of oversight in registration verification. Republican generated get-out-the-vote efforts in the last election cycle included mailers that contained absentee, or mail-in ballot requests. Fraud cases regarding obtaining and submitting mail-in ballots for voters without their permission have occurred in North Carolina.
Supporters of the requirement for a photo ID when voting may not realize that provisions to avert those other types of fraud would not be provided with the Voter ID law. Although the new draft of the bill could include language to address these issues, David Lewis, acting as spokesman on the bill, said today that the previous bill should be referred to as a reference for what the new bill would look like.
While there is no evidence of systematic problems with voter fraud in North Carolina there is plenty of evidence of systematic issues with unemployment, anemic economic development, and lack of access to health care in North Carolina. “Small government” Republicans who run the state legislature and the McCrory administration have called for belt tightening from the working poor, the unemployed, toddlers, and the elderly, and are now promoting a new program that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars without addressing any of North Carolina’s pressing concerns.
Of 215 bills filed in the state House and 183 bills in the state Senate in the current session, only 4 concerned economic development or job creation. Of the nearly 400 bills filed, 25 were “empty” local acts affecting specific Senate districts, 20 were to honor people or groups, 10 provided for special license plates, 10 were related to firearms, 6 addressed hunting/fishing or trapping, and 6 addressed issues with judges retirement ages or the jurisdiction of courts. Some of the more random bills included addressing dropping ‘possums and the legality of visible nipples.
One of the three General Assembly bills that is labeled as a jobs bill is sponsored by Forsyth County’s Julia Howard (R-NC79), but all that House Bill 59 does is eliminate the requirement for State safety inspections of automobiles which would, in turn, eliminate jobs not create them.
Of the Senate’s three “Jobs” bills (one is a banking regulation repeal) SB 76 is titled a domestic Energy Jobs Act, but it concerns controversial appointments to commissions that govern hydraulic fracturing (fracking) such as the Energy Commission. Nothing in SB 76 provides for the creation of a single North Carolina job and will allow companies from states like Texas and Oklahoma to make money off of North Carolina’s limited resources and send the profits back to their home states. The only jobs the current legislature is pushing are mining jobs that will be brought in with out of state hires.
According to Rep. David Lewis the process of writing North Carolina’s Voter ID will begin immediately. On March 12th there will be a public hearing in room 643 at the General Assembly, a hearing that will be broadcast on the NCGA’s website. Then on March 13th there will be a committee meeting where a panel of “experts” selected by the NCGA staff to represent both those “for” and “against” the legislation will be convened to talk about the proposed Voter ID legislation. Lewis said that the list of the “experts” will be provided as soon as it was available, but did not give a date when it would be available. Another committee meeting will be held on March 20th and follow a similar program to the March 13th meeting, with continued discussion with the “experts”. Lewis indicated that a bill will be introduced some time after March 25th, and predicted that it would be presented to the House some time in the first three weeks of April.
Representative Lewis stated that, “Elections are important enough to move forward with this legislation.” He said that there was really no way to put a price on the voters’ belief in the integrity of the election system. In spite of that stated belief, neither Lewis, Tillis, or any other member present mentioned doing anything about the extreme gerrymandering that has segregated voters into “Republican” or “Democratic” districts. True concern for the validity of a citizen’s vote would necessitate a drawing of district lines without concern for the distribution of party line voters. Without non-partisan re-districting, no matter whether there was voter fraud or not, the actual impact of voters on elections is negligible to the impact of the major political parties as it pertains to outcomes.
In a State already roiling with hyper-partisan, right-wing fury, the temperature does not look like it will be lowered any time soon.
Use this list to see what legislation North Carolina lawmakers have been focused on this session. Includes links to individual bills:
NC House & Senate Bills Filed as of March 5 2013