Supporters, opponents of voter ID law cite data to back up their position

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2013 

— Lawmakers heard from election experts Wednesday who said there was little evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina, but that voter ID laws in other states had not led to voter suppression as critics have predicted.

Of the 21 million votes cast in North Carolina since 2000, the State Board of Elections only turned over one case of voter impersonation for prosecution – the sort of fraud that requiring a photo ID is designed to stop.

“Voter fraud is rare and cases of voter impersonation even more uncommon,” Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York think tank that has opposed voter ID laws, told a House committee considering legislation to require a photo voter ID.

“There is no evidence of coordinated or systemic voter fraud anywhere in the country and there is certainly no evidence here in North Carolina,” Gaskins said. “A voter ID law would not improve North Carolina’s elections, but what we do know is that many North Carolina voters lack the kind of identification required by such a law.”

But supporters of a voter ID law were buttressed by testimony that similar tough laws passed in Georgia and Indiana had not lead to a decline in voter participation.

In fact, voter participation in states such as Georgia and Indiana – including those in the African-American communities – has continued to do better than the national average even after passing voter ID bills in 2005 and 2006, said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a think tank which supports voter ID laws.

“This is not Jim Crow,” von Spakovsky said. “This is not police dogs. This is not a fire hose. To say that it is, does a disservice to those who fought in the civil rights movement of the 1950s.”

Georgia’s experience

Since Georgia implemented the voter photo ID bill, the number of African-Americans voting in presidential elections jumped from 834,000 in 2004 to 1.2 million in 2008, the first time Barack Obama ran for president, according to information provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. (Opponents noted black participation declined slightly in 2012.)

Georgia, which is roughly the same size as North Carolina, has provided 29,611 free voter photo ID cards since 2006, according to the secretary of state’s office. That is far fewer than warnings that hundreds of thousands could be disenfranchised in North Carolina if a photo ID bill passed.

The Georgia effort, including efforts to publicize free voter ID cards, has cost the state $1.7 million.

Francis De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, an advocacy group in Raleigh, argued that as North Carolina is no longer a rural state where precinct workers know most voters. He said increased mobility and the widespread use of one-stop voting sites has increased the need for voter security.

“We need to update our ballot access and ballot protection just as we have updated our ability to register to vote and to vote,” De Luca said.

But Bob Hall, the director of Democracy North Carolina, said the legislature has not even defined voter fraud. He urged the legislature to appoint any governmental agency it trusted to determine whether there is any real evidence of voter fraud.

Laying legal groundwork

Opponents of the law, such as Allison Riggs, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Justice, a Durham group, seemed to be laying the ground work for a lawsuit, by noting that North Carolina’s constitution requires that “all elections shall be free” but that would not be the case if persons are required to go to the expense of obtaining birth certificates or other documents to obtain photo Ids. They also noted there would be constitutional questions if persons are required to show ID if they voted at the polls, but not if they voted by absentee ballot.

Lawyers for multiple groups that have challenged voter ID bills in other states have watched the House proceedings this week. Spokesmen have suggested to lawmakers that they should consider the cost of lengthy court battles in calculating the cost of the voter ID bill.

Von Spakovsky noted that Indiana, which has the most restrictive voter photo ID law in the country, had its law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion written by then Justice John Paul Stevens, who was considered one of court’s liberals.

Some voter ID bill is almost certain to pass the Republican-led legislature, which passed a voter ID bill in 2011 only to have it vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, however, campaigned for a voter ID bill and has said he would sign it.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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