Eric Frazier

Hey N.C. GOP, going my way?

The N.C. Republican Party wants to give voters rides to get their voter ID cards.
The N.C. Republican Party wants to give voters rides to get their voter ID cards. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

“NCGOP Offers Free Rides to Get Voter IDs.”

Yes, that’s actually happening. I did a double-take myself when that headline landed in my email stream, courtesy of the North Carolina Republican Party.

The folks who backed the nation’s most stringent voter restrictions, including ID requirements and other measures sure to lower turnout by minorities and the poor, now say they’ll give those folks – and anybody else – free rides to get their IDs.

Don’t laugh. It’s shrewd political spin.

Critics across the country have hammered N.C. Republicans over their 2013 voting law, accusing them of trying to depress turnout among folks less likely to have IDs, including Democratic-leaning minorities and the poor. Hillary Clinton joined the chorus last week, blasting North Carolina for legislation “that went after pretty much anything that makes voting more convenient or more accessible.”

But now, N.C. Republicans say they have thousands of their volunteers ready to ferry people to the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, regardless of political persuasion.

Todd Poole, the party’s executive director, says he’s talked with N.C. Democratic Party officials about making the rides a bipartisan effort. He seems sincere when he says he sees it as politics-free community service.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he told me.

Still, no political party gets into electoral contests with an eye toward helping the rival party win. Common sense suggests most of the GOP’s rides will go to GOP voters. This is not about the Republican Party trying to make sure valid IDs get to the estimated 107,000 black voters who lack them – and who vote mostly Democratic.

Mobilizing the black vote typically falls to the Democratic Party, the NAACP and black churches. (It’s not coincidental that the early voting and straight-ticket voting they encourage were trimmed in the 2013 reform law).

So the point isn’t for the GOP to get in on that action. It’s to make the offer. By doing so, the party signals that it’s not the mean old Republicans you keep hearing about, the guys trying to block the ballot box.

It’s a tiny nod toward moderation from a state party whose positions on everything from abortion to guns to gay marriage leave it in dire need of a little image softening.

GOP stalwarts will say I’m being unfair here. Poole says he’s determined to prove me wrong. Perhaps I am.

But can you picture convoys of cars streaming out of GOP-heavy Matthews or Ballantyne, headed to west Charlotte to ferry thousands of black Democrats to DMV offices?

Yeah, me neither.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com; @Ericfraz on Twitter

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