Voter ID law would affect poor, elderly, minorities

March 9, 2013 

They’ve captured control of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office, have redrawn congressional and legislative districts to their advantage and now Republicans want to take out a little extra insurance on keeping power by passing a voter ID law that is unnecessary.

Instances of voter fraud in North Carolina, and nationally for that matter, are rare and Republicans know it. Why, then, would they want to pass a law they say with stentorian certainty would ensure the integrity of elections in North Carolina, conjuring visions of people with satchels full of filled-in ballots just waiting for a chance to commence stuffing ballot boxes?

It’s simple: those who lack official government identification tend to be among the poor, the elderly and minorities, groups that tend to vote for Democrats. The reasons why they don’t have driver’s licenses, for example, might be financial or simply a lack of need. Many people, after all, survive in this society without driving or without interactions such as writing checks that require identification. And many others can’t pay $25 out of pocket for a government-approved identification card. Still others are homebound, of sound mind but physically handicapped.

But they still have the right to vote.

A right

Bob Hall of the government watchdog Democracy North Carolina made the case when Republicans first got up to these shenanigans in the last General Assembly session, when their Voter ID law was vetoed by Gov. Beverly Perdue. Answering those who claimed a Voter ID was harmless because people had to show identification to get insurance or buy groceries with a check or get a credit card, etc., Hall noted that voting was a right, not a privilege, and thus something that deserved protection.

Republicans are not interested in that argument. They want a Voter ID law, and with Republican Pat McCrory now in the governor’s chair, they’re likely to get it. This time out, though, they say they’ll move it slowly through the General Assembly, affording opponents and others with different ideas to speak and be heard.

Of course, the lack of a rush is more likely due to their awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case in which a county in Alabama is challenging a provision related to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, part of which required that any changes in election procedures in select states and in 40 counties in North Carolina be approved by the federal government in advance. A Voter ID law in North Carolina would constitute such a change.

But if Shelby County, Ala., succeeds in convincing the court to do away with that requirement for approval, on the grounds that the racial discrimination the provision was designed to prevent is nonexistent, then Republican leaders in this state will feel empowered to move ahead with their Voter ID bill.

Such a waste

Many states have passed Voter ID laws, particularly since Republican victories in state elections. But some of those laws have been overturned as courts have looked closely at whether they are discriminatory. Indiana’s 2005 law, requiring a photo ID with the caveat that those without them could cast provisional ballots that would be validated after the voters provided identification, was upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court, with the majority opinion written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, since retired.

Basically, Stevens found that the Indiana law didn’t discriminate and that it really affected a very few people. Dissenting justices were more emphatic that the potential for discrimination did exist.

Even advocates of a Voter ID law, while they speak in somber tones of the need to protect the sacred right of the vote, have to acknowledge that there is little evidence of widespread voter fraud. The N.C. State Board of Election referred for prosecution 310 cases of fraud from the 2008 election. There were 4.3 million votes cast.

Nationwide, reports the Brennan Center at New York University, about 11 percent of eligible voters lack a government-connected photo ID, and the percentage does tend to be higher in minorities and the elderly.

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