Board wants bill to require voter ID

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 21, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County has asked its state legislators for the option to require voter identification.
By a 4-1 vote, county commissioners agreed to request a local bill requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
The bill would be patterned after a Senate bill passed by the General Assembly but vetoed by the governor.
Chairman Chad Mitchell said Gaston and Davidson counties sent a copy of a resolution that they have approved to Rowan.
Commissioners made two small changes to that resolution after members of the board and the public raised concerns.
Dr. Bryant Norman Jr., president of the Rowan-Salisbury branch of the NAACP, said the NAACP is against the voter ID resolution.
“I think what this is really about is systematically suppressing voters of color and the elderly and other minority groups,” Norman said. “We feel it’s another form of poll tax.”
Veleria Levy, head of the Rowan County Democratic Party, said more than 6,000 registered voters in the county do not have a driver’s license and cannot get one. According to Democracy North Carolina, a black voter is twice as likely to not have a photo ID as a white voter in Rowan County.
She said even if the county provides free photo identification — potentially spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — voters still must pay to get copies of birth certificates to verify their identity.
The head of the county Republican Party, Greg Edds, said surveys show even those who don’t have driver’s licenses usually have some form of photo identification.
He said it will empower minorities — and all voters — to ensure that their votes aren’t “diluted” by fraud.
John Steele, a member of the Rowan County Board of Elections, said if this county has a voter fraud problem, the elections board hasn’t heard anything about it.
“Most people don’t realize how hard it is to commit voter fraud,” Steele said. “The mostly likely way that you can get by with it is through absentee ballots, and Senate Bill 595 has nothing about how to handle that problem.”
But Salisbury resident Larry Wright said it would be easy to vote early under someone else’s name and vote again on Election Day under his own.
“I guarantee you could have voted in place of a person who you knew was not going to vote,” Wright said. “How many times has this occurred in the past? Who knows? We have no way to check.”
Commissioner Jim Sides said one or two fraudulent votes could have made the difference in Landis’ recent election for mayor, which was a tie until two provisional votes tipped the balance.
N.C. Reps. Fred Steen and Harry Warren attended Monday’s meeting. Commissioner Jon Barber asked them whether it’s important to request a local bill when the veto on the Senate bill could be overruled.
They both said it may not be necessary, but if the veto override fails, passing a resolution would help justify a local bill for Rowan and other interested counties.
Commissioner Jon Barber made a motion to change the resolution so that a copy would be sent to the heads of the local Republican and Democratic parties for their review.
At first, Mitchell said he couldn’t support the resolution without doing more research into the cost and effects on voters.
“We’ve heard estimates that it could cost the county $650,000 to implement the ID system and then provide free voter identification,” he said. “Individuals can’t be charged for voter ID, of course, because federal law will not allow that.”
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain said he supports requiring voter ID, but he moved that the board table the issue until it has more information about the money and effort involved.
But Sides said he thought the local bill would just give Rowan County the right to enact its own requirement.
“If a local bill were to be passed,” Mitchell asked the two legislators, “would it simply permit the commission to implement the program after costs were examined, or would it require voter ID in Rowan County elections?”
Steen replied that the bill could be written either way.
Mitchell then suggested adding to the resolution that the local bill should be “permissive legislation” and not “required legislation.”
Barber amended his motion to allow that change, and the board approved it 4-1.
Coltrain voted against the resolution, saying again that he wanted to wait and gather more information.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Facebook: Karissa.SalisburyPost
In other action
Rowan County commissioners also:
• Moved forward with plans for a $1.3 million community hangar at the Rowan County Airport. The hangar could house larger airplanes, including jet planes, and it would be available for both general and corporate aviation clients.
If the cost was financed over 12 years, the annual payment would be about $110,000. According to County Manager Gary Page, the county would make about $60,000 back per year in hangar rental and taxes.
• Authorized a formal challenge to Rowan County’s 2010 Census count. The county disagrees with the U.S. Census Bureau’s housing counts.
After comparing the data to the county’s own 911 records and 2010 aerial photography, planning officials have said about 1,500 homes may have been left out.
• Approved resolutions for refunding and community college bonds. The refunding bonds will save the county about $960,840 on 2003 bonds issued for school construction, according to county documents.
Debt service payments on the $12 million community college bonds will be structured so that the county’s property tax rate will increase by 0.25 cents in fiscal year 2012, 0.5 cents in 2013 and 0.5 cents in 2014.
• Approved the renaming of Berkhamstead Lane to Stone Castle Way.
• Approved debt write-offs for the health department totaling $41,250 from inactive client accounts.
• Approved the purchase of a $127,000 roll-off truck for environmental management.
• Approved rules of organization for a Home Community Care Block Grant Advisory Committee.