The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 19, 2013

Voter ID bill splits board of Elections


TARBORO — Edgecombe County Rep. Joe Pat Tolson, D-Edgecombe, is totally against a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.   

The Republican-led bill passed its second committee test in the North Carolina House Thursday. Tolson said the bill will more than likely be approved.

"They're (Republican) looking for a problem that doesn't exist," Tolson said. "I don't see a need for this. I'm concerned that this may discourage people who may have to get IDs not to vote. I hope that doesn't happen."

The bill also has Edgecombe County Board of Elections members split across party lines. The makeup of that board is two Democrats, Charles Rountree and Shelly Willingham and one Republican, Betty Lewis.

Rountree calls the bill "unnecessary."

"I don't think there is fraud," he said. "I think that the mailing absentee ballots are far more troublesome because there is no participation with the election workers (and the voter) other than requesting ballots.

"We have a system in place that makes sure that the person who comes to the poll is the the named voter. We have not had any issues as long as I've been on the board."

Willingham echoed Rountree's sentiment.

"We're making an attempt to cure a problem that doesn't exist," he said. "But if that is what they do, then I think that people will get IDs, adhere to the law and go out and vote."

Lewis disagreed with her counterparts. She used a example of her visit to a Chapel Hill Hospital where she was required to show a photo ID each time she entered.

"I think in these days, more than ever before, it might be appropiate that we have voter ID, to validate who we say we are," she said. I don't have a problem with it."

The bill's next stop is the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, followed by the House floor Wednesday and Thursday for approval.

"If the voter ID bill passes, which I think it will, I think people will still go out and exercise their right to vote. I'm not that concerned about it.

The House Finance Committee endorsed the measure on a party-line vote after Democrats again proposed amendments to ease restrictions. The one amendment passed would allow a voter who isn’t yet registered to obtain free identification with the Division of Motor Vehicles.

A number of Republican-controlled legislatures have pushed voter ID laws in recent years. The issue drew national attention in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election as opponents challenged some of those bills in court. Republican lawmakers say voter ID ensures election integrity, but Democrats say there’s little evidence of fraud at the polls and the true goal is voter suppression.

Beginning in 2016, voters would have to present one of eight forms of state-issued ID or an ID from a public college. Voters who lack ID on Election Day could cast a provisional ballot, but it wouldn’t be counted unless they return to a local board of election with ID before results are reviewed.

Voters who say they don’t have a copy of a birth certificate or marriage license could obtain a special ID free of charge.

General Assembly staff anticipate those IDs could cost the state up to $930,000 over five years, according to a memo distributed to Finance Committee members. Including additional State Board of Election staffing and technology needs, total costs could reach $3.7 million over five years, depending on the number of people who seek the free ID.

The staff analysis did not include the costs of an education campaign to inform voters of changes before the bill goes into effect. The analysis noted, however, that Georgia reported spending $840,000 over 14 months on a statewide campaign when it implemented its voter ID law.   

The House Elections Committee OK’d the bill Wednesday after hours of amendment attempts and a highly charged debate between older Democratic lawmakers who recalled the disenfranchisement of the Jim Crow era and Republicans who said that time has passed. Some of that debate spilled into the Finance Committee, but discussion was mostly confined to final amendments.

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, successfully pushed for an amendment that would allow unregistered voters who lack ID to obtain a free special ID at a Division of Motor Vehicles branch if they sign an affidavit swearing their intention to register. The law previously required a voter seeking free ID to already be registered, but Ross said she wanted to prevent multiple trips for a poor or elderly voter.  

The Associated Press assisted with his story