Voter ID bill takes shape
SALISBURY — In 20 years as Rowan County’s elections’ board director, Nancy Evans recalls only one obvious instance of voter fraud.
A playboy who wanted to test the system in 2008 completed an early voting absentee form and later penned a second ballot at the polls, she said.
When investigators found the inconsistency, Evans said, the rogue voter admitted he wanted to see if he could fool the system.
“He might have got away with voting but he only voted once because the other vote was removed,” Evans said. “I turned his name over to the state and that was dealt with that way.”
But voter ID supporters say officials often aren’t aware of voter fraud, igniting a statewide debate between voter confidence and voter suppression.
On Thursday, N.C. Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) introduced the anticipated — and controversial — Voter ID bill that Republicans hope will curb voter fraud and boost confidence in the election process.
The measure would require voters to show a government-issued photograph at the polls, starting in 2016.
“I felt like the bill we had last year only addressed voter ID balloting at the polls,” Warren said, noting that “other opportunities” for voter fraud in provisional and absentee ballots had been seemingly ignored.
“That’s why I began work in July,” he said, “to do a more comprehensive bill that addressed voter integrity throughout the voter process as well as address the concerns of those who are opposed to voter ID.”
Warren said he hopes the bill addresses concerns that the measure would disenfranchise older voters, students and the poor.
Warren’s legislation would accept student IDs from public universities, driver’s licenses up to 10 years after expiration and state employee IDs. It would also allow residents 70 or older to use expired IDs.
Thousands of North Carolinians who do not have driver’s licenses could get a non-operator ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles at an estimated $10 each.
Warren said there could be additional costs for those who need to obtain a birth certificate, but voters who are financially strapped may be able to obtain them free.
Following Thursday’s announcement, NAACP President Rev. William Barber criticized GOP leaders for introducing a “clearly unconstitutional” bill. He said those born elsewhere wouldn’t be covered by the state if they need an out-of-state birth certificate.
“Citizens born elsewhere will still have to shell out time and money to obtain their birth certificates,” Barber told the News & Observer. “Birth certificates can cost up to $45 to obtain in some states. Moreover, nearly 20 states require people to provide a photo ID before the state will give a copy of a birth certificate. In some states, the wait time to get the birth certificate can be months, especially if you have to write away for it.”
‘Enough anecdotal evidence’
The new bill is less restrictive than legislation Warren cosponsored two years ago. That bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Beverly Perdue.
In her veto remarks, Perdue wrote, “What we do not need is the creation of new obstacles in voting.”
But conservatives believe they’ve found the right blend of restrictions to quell criticism from the left while appeasing a majority of North Carolinians who, according to a 2012 Elon University poll, support voter ID.
House Republicans also now have a governor who has voiced support for voter ID. A public hearing is set for Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Raleigh. A House vote is expected in late April.
At a news conference Thursday, House Speaker Thom Tillis told reporters the bill stayed true to the “core principles.”
“It is a bill we are very confident will withstand any challenge that may come to us by way of the courts,” Tillis said.
Catawba College politics Professor Michael Bitzer said GOP lawmakers have in recent months veered from a bill aimed at voter fraud to legislation intended to support the voting process as a whole. Bitzer said part of the shift is due to the lack of fraud statistics.
“In some races, maybe the closeness could have affected it,”he said, “but you just don’t hear the great concerns or the documented evidence (of voter fraud) other than anecdotal. It’s just not there.”
Evans, director of the Rowan County Board of Elections, said she has only seen a handful of duplicate voting instances over the years, most of which were older voters who completed ballots early and mistakenly tried to vote again on election day.
Aside from the deliberate voter fraud incident in 2008, only one other voter tried to fool the system.
Evans said last fall a Rowan County resident got a ballot in her deceased mother’s name and left the precinct with it. The voter then took it to a media outlet to show how easy it was to commit voter fraud.
Evans said the resident didn’t vote with the ballot.
Private college concerns
One concern some critics, including Bitzer, have noted is the absence of accepted photo IDs for private college students.
“Their IDs are not on the list,” he said.
Catawba College has photo IDs for students, Bitzer said.
Warren responded Saturday by saying private college IDs could be added to the bill as it moves through committees.
The second-term representative said some public schools may not be able to use school-issued IDs if the forms don’t show a date of issuance or a date of expiration.
“I anticipate that there could be a possibility of private schools applying to have their IDs qualified by showing the validation of identity and issuances,” Warren said.
Warren also defended GOP lawmakers’ views on voter fraud and said the current system doesn’t lend itself to enumerating fraud.
“I’d say there’s been enough anecdotal evidence to support it,” Warren said. “We don’t necessarily need to have an election stolen to react to it.”
Awareness is key
Some proposed changes in the legislation weren’t included in the former voter ID bill.
Warren said he began working with N.C. Rep. Tom Murry (R-Wake) on provisional and absentee ballot reform after finding those election avenues weren’t addressed in earlier bills. “Those needed to be addressed, too,” he said. “You don’t just look at one aspect of it.”
Voters completing absentee ballots would have to include the last four digits of their Social Security numbers or a driver’s license number.
The absentee program would go into effect in 2014, two years before the voter ID requirement.
Bitzer said several changes in the original proposals were reflections of early criticisms from the left.
“The Republicans were indeed listening during the public commentary,” he said.
But Evans said she worries the bill could lead to longer lines at the polls.
“I just think it could be really hard on us if people don’t have the ID at the polls because they’re going to have to do a provisional ballot,” Evans said.
The voter would then have to return with an accepted form of ID.
“That’s another step that we’re going to have to do,” she said. “Provisional ballots take a long time to process.”
But Evans’ biggest concern would be making sure residents are aware of changes if the bill passed.
“We have time to get people to know about it, but you also have to realize presidential elections — you have a lot more people coming out,” Evans said.
The bill would create the Voter Information Verification Agency, a board made up of 14 employees who would work with county agencies to educate voters during the transition.
“It’s going to take a lot of education for us and use a lot of our time trying to educate the public,” she said.
“That’s the scary part — just getting people to understand what they have to do, putting the responsibility on the voter to do what they have to do.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.