N.C. Republicans had a productive Monday teeing up and swatting down vetoes from Gov. Bev Perdue on fracking, the state budget and a revised Racial Justice Act. But one potential veto override never made it to a vote before session’s end, and that’s a victory – for now – for many thousands of North Carolinians.
A Voter ID bill passed by Republicans last year would have required most voters to show some form of photo identification before getting to cast a ballot. Perdue vetoed that bill, and in February, House Majority Leader Paul Stam said his party would have enough votes for an override. But unlike with the veto trifecta this week, he didn’t.
The reason: Democrats didn’t waver on Voter ID, and rightly so. They knew that Republicans had crafted a bill that could affect more than 450,000 N.C. residents, according to the nonpartisan voter advocacy group Democracy North Carolina. State officials say more than 550,000 residents have no identification at all, and many don’t have the money or time to get to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch and obtain one.
Republicans, as in other states, said their bill was aimed at stopping voter fraud. Never mind that in-person voter fraud is rare, and that the more common fraud – people being ineligible because their names were improperly left on voter rolls – wouldn’t have been stopped by the N.C. bill. If Republicans really were interested in the integrity of elections, they should not have cut about $600,000 from the budget last month that would’ve unfrozen $4 million in federal Help America Vote funds. Local election officials had pleaded for that money to deal with the complications of new district lines, split precincts and other issues this November.
Some suspect that N.C. Republicans didn’t like the idea of Help America Vote money also going toward early voting efforts, which often help Democratic candidates. The same is true for voters who would likely be disenfranchised by a Voter ID bill.
For now, the Voter ID bill is dead. But maybe not for long. If Republicans maintain their majorities in the House and Senate in November, and if Republican gubernatorial candidate and Voter ID supporter Pat McCrory joins them, the issue will surely be revived.
Pursuing it would be just as unnecessary then as it is now, but we hope Republicans could at least craft a bill that does as little as possible to limit a basic right. That might involve the government proactively working to get IDs to voters who don’t have them – or simply allowing substitutes such as utility bills to be shown at the polls for identification.
The latter provision, which several states have included in Voter ID laws, might help North Carolina avoid a losing, costly battle with the U.S. Department of Justice. DOJ, which has to give the nod to voting laws in some states with a history of discrimination, has thus far declined to allow South Carolina and Texas Voter ID laws because of strict requirements that would disenfranchise minority voters.
N.C. Republicans reportedly considered introducing a non-photo requirement into a new Voter ID bill as a way to grab enough Democratic votes on the issue, but gave up because they’d lose too many Republicans in return. Perhaps that compromise defeated the purpose the GOP had all along – not to stop voter fraud, just unfriendly voters.