In a move that could influence next year's presidential election in North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue vetoed a bill Thursday that would have required voters to show a photo ID.
Republicans hailed the bill as a common-sense way to ensure against fraud. Critics said it would suppress voter turnout, particularly among students, African-Americans and elderly people, calling it a modern-day poll tax.
"We must always be vigilant in protecting the integrity of our elections," Perdue said in a statement. "But requiring every voter to present a government-issued photo ID is not the way to do it."
Perdue said the bill would "unfairly disenfranchise" voters.
Republicans roundly criticized the move. It's unclear whether they can override the veto.
"We shouldn't be surprised by how far the governor will go to score political points with the liberal wing of her party," Senate President pro tempore Phil Berger of Rockingham County said in a statement. "A measure that ensures voters are who they say they are is a no-brainer, and most North Carolinians agree."
A recent Elon University poll found 75 percent of North Carolinians support voter ID requirements.
The voter ID bill was the centerpiece of an array of voting legislation considered by the recently adjourned General Assembly that also weighed measures to shorten the early voting period and eliminate straight-ticket voting.
North Carolina would have joined six other states, including South Carolina, that have passed voter ID laws since January. A similar bill is pending in one other state.
Senate Republicans have the numbers to override Perdue's veto. But in the House, the ID bill passed the House with 67 votes, five short of what's needed for an override. No Democrats voted for it.
This month, when House Republicans overrode Perdue's budget veto, they needed the help of five Eastern North Carolina Democrats.
House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius said he's not worried about collecting enough votes.
"If seven Democrats don't show up for a publicly announced session, that would be the easy way to override it," he said in an interview, referring to the required three-fifths needed.
It was Perdue's eighth veto since February. She has now vetoed as many bills in 10 months as her predecessor did in eight years.
But Perdue is the first governor to face a legislature led by the other party since 1996, when North Carolina became the last state to give its chief executive a veto.
A passionate debate
Few measures elicited as much passion as the voter ID bill.
Researchers said it would affect more than 500,000 North Carolina voters without driver's licenses. Voters could get free picture IDs at their local elections board, but critics called that a burden. And pointing to the few documented cases of fraud, they said the measure was a solution in search of a problem.
And some Democrats, particularly minorities, evoked the old days of Jim Crow. State Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, called it "a throwback to what happened in this state between 1900 and 1965."
They were joined by others who said the ID bill and other voting proposals would reduce turnout in a state that has tried to increase it.
"The measure would have placed undue burdens on law-abiding citizens, making it harder for thousands of qualified voters to cast a ballot, without making our election system any more secure," Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said in a statement.
Turnout could change
Most of the groups that critics say would be affected by the ID requirement, particularly African-Americans, tend to vote Democratic. In a state Democrat Barack Obama won by only 14,000 votes in 2008, Democrats have a clear interest in maximizing turnout. So does Perdue, who expects a tough rematch with former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
Michael Cobb, a political scientist at N.C. State University, said if it were to become law, the ID requirement would be a factor. But not the only one.
"Our best guess is we know that overall it will reduce turnout. All things being equal, it will be harder for certain kinds of voters to vote," he said. "That doesn't mean that turnout in North Carolina in 2012 will be lower than it was in 2008. That depends on how successful Obama and Perdue are in turning out voters."