It would cost the state about $17 million over five years to implement a new voter ID requirement, according to a legislative staff estimate released Tuesday.
Costs include voter education, temporary jobs at the State Board of Elections, equipment for local boards of election, and special IDs the state DMV would provide free.
“We’re very serious about this and we’re prepared to put the money behind it,” said Rep. David Lewis, the Harnett County Republican shepherding the bill through the House.
The bill provides for a new type of photo ID issued by local boards of election. Voters could use them to cast ballots, along with driver’s licenses, military IDs, tribal IDs and other forms of identification.
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The voter ID proposal cleared two House committees Tuesday on its way to a vote of the full House planned for Wednesday.
The Senate approved a version of the bill last week.
The House Committee on Elections and Ethics Law approved the voter ID proposal along party lines. Republicans have wanted a voter ID law for years. In November, voters agreed to add a photo ID requirement to the state constitution.
Democrats argued Republicans want to build obstacles to voting. Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, called the bill “this abomination.”
“The reason you’re passing this bill is simply for voter suppression,” he said. “There’s no question about it.” He referenced a now unenforceable provision of the state constitution that requires literacy tests for voters. Literacy tests were a tool to prevent African-Americans from voting.
Republicans denied that voter suppression is their goal. “Race is the refuge of scoundrels when they have no debate,” said Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican.
Several Republicans said they were supporting the bill even though they considered it too weak.
The bill the legislature is considering is less restrictive than the voter ID law the state passed in 2013 and was thrown out by federal judges in 2016. For example, the new proposal would allow students at the state’s public and private colleges and universities to use their school IDs for voting. Some college students reported trouble voting in the first 2016 primary.
Rep. John Blust, a Guilford County Republican, called the proposal “fairly watered down” and said it would leave the state vulnerable to students using fake IDs to vote.
An audit of votes in the 2016 general election found one case of in-person voter impersonation in 4.8 million ballots cast. Democrats pointed to the findings to buttress their argument that voter ID is not necessary. Republicans claim voter fraud is a widespread but under-reported problem.