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Protesters gather in Raleigh to fight voter ID law

RALEIGH On the eve of a state Senate hearing on a proposed law requiring voters to present photo ID, hundreds of people gathered to protest the bill, saying it would make it harder for students, minorities and elderly voters to cast a ballot.

And proposals to further limit voting, such as restrictions on early voting and Sunday voting, are still possible as the legislative session gets set to wrap up.

“We are in a battle for the ballot,” North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber II told the crowd gathered behind the General Assembly building for the 12th “Moral Monday” protest. “If we ever needed the right to vote, we need it now.”

Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to fight voter fraud and make sure that voting is carried out honestly in the state. Opponents, including many Democratic lawmakers, say the true purpose of the bill is to suppress voting among groups that generally lean left, such as college students. They say there is no widespread voter fraud in the state.

The Voter Identification Verification Act is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon, with a vote expected to follow shortly after. The Senate version of the bill limits the types of identification that could be used to cast a ballot more than the House version does.

Some people, such as those older than 70 and people who are blind, would be able to receive ID cards for free so they could vote.

The House bill, passed several months ago, includes university-issued IDs, cards issued by local governments for first responders, and cards issued to people receiving government benefits as acceptable forms of identification. The proposed Senate bill does not include those. The Senate bill names seven forms of acceptable identification, including a driver’s license, state-issued ID cards and passports.

Rep. Bill Brawley, a Republican from Matthews, said he believes the legislature will pass a voter ID law this week.

When asked if he believed the final version would resemble the House or Senate version of the bill, Brawley said, “That’s a good question.”

Brawley said voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraud at the polls, which he said is widespread and underreported.

He also predicted that the legislature will wrap up its session this week.

“It’s time for us to be done,” Brawley said.

Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, said the group will vigorously oppose Mecklenburg politicians who supported voter ID bills, such as Brawley and Rep. Ruth Samuelson, in the next election.

“It’s a shame that the people from the state’s biggest city are the ones doing the greatest damage,” Nantambu said. “We intend to make sure the people of Charlotte know.”

Costs of early voting restrictions

It’s still unclear whether the legislature will move to enact restrictions on early voting and Sunday voting. Proposals have been floated but aren’t in the bill being considered Tuesday by the Senate.

If the legislature does reduce the number of early voting days, local officials say the move will have costs.

Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County director of elections, said he doesn’t know how many people would be affected by the voter ID legislation. Dickerson said his agency does not keep such statistics, adding that the state Board of Elections is calculating such numbers for the legislature. He said he has no opinion on the proposed legislation and will simply follow whatever laws are implemented.

However, Dickerson said, curbing early voting could have a major impact in Mecklenburg County, especially in presidential election years when turnout is heavy.

Some 280,000 people in Mecklenburg – about 62 percent of all voters – cast ballots early in 2012, compared with about 170,000 who voted on Election Day.

Also, last year, more than 200,000 North Carolinians cast a vote on the Saturday before the presidential election, according to data from the N.C. State Board of Elections.

That could mean longer voting lines. In recent presidential elections, lines formed in the morning at polling sites but usually dissipated by afternoon, Dickerson said.

“You’re going to have to put those people somewhere,” he said.

Local officials would have to purchase new voting equipment and find additional polling sites if early voting is cut back, Dickerson said. Staff writer Gavin Off contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter @ESPortillo
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