North Carolina’s Republican leaders say requiring a government-approved photo ID in order to vote is “common sense.” And North Carolina voters tend to agree. Polls show more than 70 percent approve of having voters present identification before they cast a vote.
While the requirement seems sensible, it’s really nonsense. The ID requirement aims to cure a problem that doesn’t exist. Voters simply are not showing up at the polls in any appreciable numbers to declare they’re someone else and cast a fraudulent vote. There may be a few cases of error or confusion that result in a miscast vote, but the numbers are so miniscule they don’t matter.
Those few instances certainly don’t justify the expense, hassle and delay that will come to North Carolina in 2016 when every in-person voter will have to show a valid photo ID. Poll workers and partisan poll observers will raise questions about women who have married and changed their names, expired licenses, unacceptable IDs and addresses that differ from registration files. Lines will be longer and slower. Legitimate voters won’t get to vote. It will be a mess.
That will be OK with the authors of the law because the law’s real intent isn’t to confirm the identity of voters. It’s to suppress voting, especially by the young and minorities, groups that are more likely to lack an acceptable ID and who tend to vote Democratic.
Some Republican leaders are so anxious to suppress the vote, they’re jumping the gun. North Carolina’s state Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, has aired ads touting his role in passing the voter ID law. The ads failed to note that the ID requirement does not take effect until 2016, an omission that could discourage voters from going to the polls this November because they think they lack proper ID.
The state NAACP rightly called foul over this latest cynical tinkering with a sacred American right. It filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections. The complaint asks the board to “immediately issue an order to cease and desist this misleading advertisement and website video, and that it conduct an expedited investigation, and refer this case for prosecution” as an attempt to discourage or intimidate voters.
Berger has amended the ad to include when the ID requirement takes effect, but the confusion has already been sown. The NAACP is right to aggressively push back against efforts to suppress minority votes, particularly an effort that is two years ahead of the law’s taking effect. Meanwhile, the NAACP, the U.S. Justice Department and others are fighting the law in court and could get it thrown out before the 2016 election.
A voter ID requirement is simply a dressed up version of the uglier requirements such as literacy tests and poll taxes. It will make voting harder for voters who lack a proper ID. A 2013 study from the state Board of Elections found that there may be more than 300,000 registered voters who lack a DMV-issued photo ID. Approximately one-third of that total are African-American.
But the Voter ID law is about a lot more than showing an ID. The law also repealed same-day registration, straight-ticket voting and out-of-precinct voting. It also reduced the number of early voting days. Those changes are already in place and their impact showed in the this year’s primary. The voting rights groups Democracy North Carolina reviewed provisional ballots and found 454 which would have counted prior to the new law, but were nullified by the new restrictions on same-day registration and out of precinct voting. The nullified votes were disproportionately cast by African-Americans.
Since African-Americans and young voters turn out in higher percentages in presidential election years, the impact of the new law in discouraging or nullifying their votes will be even greater in 2016. Imposing new voting restrictions that require time and expense for many to comply, will disprotionately discourage African-American and young voters. And if you shorten the early voting period and make it harder to register, the effect will be compounded.
It doesn’t take a Democracy North Carolina study to show that. It’s common sense.