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House Republicans unveiled their long-awaited voter ID bill Thursday, offering a less restrictive version than the measure that was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev. Perdue two years ago.
The measure would require all voters to show a government-issued photograph at the polls starting with the 2016 elections, in what supporters said was an effort to restore voter confidence in the electoral system.
House Speaker Thom Tillis of Matthews couched the bill as a compromise that would not fully satisfy partisans on either side of the debate. Tillis said the bill stuck with the core principles of those who want a voter ID.
Its very different than the bill we tried to pass last year, Tillis said at a news conference attended by a number of other GOP lawmakers. It has tried to take into account a number of the concerns that were raised. It is a bill we are very confident will withstand any challenge that may come to us by way of the courts.
The citizens of North Carolina want some form of voter ID legislation, Tillis said. I think it really restores confidence in voter outcomes.
But critics said there was still no evidence of any need for a voter ID law.
In dueling news conferences Wednesday, House and Senate Democratic leaders blasted both the voter ID bill and several other voter bills pushed by GOP lawmakers. The latest voter ID legislation creates multiple new and unnecessary roadblocks to voting in North Carolina, said House Democratic leader Larry Hall of Durham.
Republicans claim to be the party of smaller government, but this bill seeks to create a new bureaucracy that will waste millions of taxpayer dollars addressing an imaginary problem, Hall said. This Voter ID legislation remains what is has always been part of a larger cynical and partisan (effort) by the Republican Party to pick and choose who can vote, that is driven by their selfish desire for political gain.
The voter ID bill is part of a larger battle raging in the legislature over the election machinery, with Republicans pushing for shorter early voting periods, the end of voting on the same day a person registers and the abolition of Sunday voting.
The Democrats are pushing bills that they say would make it easier for people to vote, not more difficult. The bills include providing online voter registration, ensuring weekend voting and declaring election day a holiday.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed a voter ID bill in 2011, but it was vetoed by Perdue. This time, the measure seems certain to become law because Republican Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned on the need for a voter ID law.
Opponents have said they are likely to challenge the voter ID law in the courts, just as they have done in other states. In nearly every state, it has been a partisan battle, with Republicans adopting the laws where they are in power, and Democrats opposing it.
Assured of passage, Tillis and other Republican leaders have run what they called a transparent process, holding hearings, and hearing testimony on the bill. They said they incorporated some of the recommendations in the bill.
A public hearing is set for next Wednesday at 4 p.m. with a House vote expected on April 22 or 23.
Under the measure, a person who does not have a photo ID could still cast a provisional ballot. But they would be required to return at a later time before the county board canvasses the votes to show an ID for the vote to be counted.
Voters who do not have drivers licenses could get a voter non-operator ID from the Division of Motor Vehicles at an estimated cost of $10 per person.
But the state, under the measure, would cover costs if the person signed a document declaring that paying the cost would present a financial hardship. In such cases, the state registrar would also be required to provide free birth certificates or marriage licenses to persons who needed them to help get a photo ID.
Estimates have ranged wildly on just how many North Carolina residents lack drivers licenses, with some studies putting the number at several hundred thousand voters.
Republican lawmakers said they had no estimate for the cost of the program. The voter ID program in Georgia, which is about the same size as North Carolina, has cost taxpayers a total of $1.7 million since it was passed in 2006.
The nice plus on this is that these same ID cards can be used for other things, said Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte.
The bill would allow student IDs issued by public schools, such as NC State University and community colleges, but not for private schools such as Meredith College.
For seniors, if they have a valid ID at age 70, that same ID will always be valid no matter how old they get, under the bill.
There is also an exemption for a person who meets the federal definition of disabled. That disabled person would not need to get a photo ID.
The measure would also tighten the restrictions on absentee ballots, in which no photo ID would be required. An official form will be developed that will require a person to provide a drivers license, the number of a DMV non-operators photo ID or Social Security number to obtain the absentee ballot.
We are trying to improve the integrity of the absentee ballot process, as well as requiring a straight voter ID, said Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County.
Critics have said it is not fair to require voters showing up at the polls to produce a photo, while those who mail in their ballot have no such requirement.
The absentee program would go into effect in 2014 two years before the voter ID.
The bill would also create a board called the Voter Information Verification agency comprised of 14 employees who will work with counties to help educate voters in the transition to voter ID, assist voters in getting IDs and do voter outreach.
The bill also directs the state Board of Elections to study the possibility of creating a statewide digital database of photographs that would include facial recognition software.