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Most won’t be hurt by voter photo ID; here’s who will

Bob Hall
Democracy North Carolina

From Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, an election reform organization based in Durham:

A new analysis pinpoints who will be most harmed by a proposed law to make voters show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. Out of 4.5 million North Carolinians who voted in 2012, the State Board of Elections identified 115,291 who were properly registered but who didn’t have an N.C. photo ID or identity card.

They tend to be poorer, older, more rural – and black. African Americans are 23 percent of all registered voters but they’re 36 percent of those without an ID who voted in the 2012 presidential election.

A government photo ID requirement won’t hurt most voters, but it will push away the infrequent, lower-income voter with many other worries. It will hit black voters hardest.

Is that the goal?

The history of voter discrimination is personal for many black North Carolinians. When you add that living memory to the drumbeat to restrict voting, you’ll understand why the photo ID push feels like a partisan, racial attack.

The refusal of General Assembly leaders to accept a backup for voters without a photo ID exposes the ugly purpose. Why not let that voter sign a sworn statement with a verifiable identity number, like a Social Security number? That’s the process the proposed bill (HB 589) would use to protect against fraud by mail-in absentee voters. Why shouldn’t it be acceptable for the walk-in voter?

Most states provide a backup for the voter without ID, but the N.C. bill makes that person cast a provisional ballot that won’t count unless he returns a few days later with a government photo ID. That’s just harassment.

Unfortunately, this elitist purge of unwanted voters permeates other legislative proposals.

One bill would take away parents’ $2,500 tax deduction for a dependent if their student votes in the college community rather than from the parents’ address. Another bill will make voting nearly impossible for a person who has finished serving a felony sentence, a person we should want reconnected to society, not isolated.

Several bills would shorten early voting and end same-day registration during early voting. These reforms have saved taxpayers money, provided convenience, and improved ballot security. Election officials point out that without strong early voting programs, they’d have to divide precincts, open more polling places on Election Day, buy more equipment and hire more staff.

By spreading voting over more days, lines are shorter and poll workers have time to catch errors. Same-day registration also allows officials to efficiently handle address changes and check the voter’s identity documentation, face to face.

Throughout the 20th century, North Carolina ranked among the worst 15 states for voter turnout because of a history of literacy tests, poll taxes and other barriers that taught people, “Voting is not for you – leave it to the boss man.” Thanks to early voting and same-day registration, we’ve climbed out of the cellar. North Carolina made it into the top half of the states for turnout in 2008 and reached the top 15 states in 2012.

We’ve seen record participation by Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, rich and poor. We don’t need to return to the days of elitist politics and discrimination. Don’t let legislators rig the election system for their own selfish interests.

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