Speakers back voter ID bill Warren says he’ll listen to both sides to make sure measure is balanced

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 11, 2013

RALEIGH — Reasons varied, but speakers at a public hearing on a controversial bill that would require government-issued photo IDs to vote were overwhelmingly in favor of the measure Wednesday.
N.C. Reps. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) and Carl Ford (R-China Grove) were in attendance as more than 100 speakers, often testily, hashed out their views on the voter ID bill filed last week.
The opinions ranged from critics claiming the legislation penned by Warren would suppress votes to supporters asking for a more restrictive bill.
“It’s been very informative,” Ford said. “It’s good to see the people fired up.”
And the people didn’t disappoint.
Much of the commentary was anecdotal poll observations or stories from other counties.
Warren said support and criticism are both a part of the process.
“Listening to the comments and concerns of those who took the time to come before the Elections Committee is and has been an important part in the process of crafting a balanced bill,” Warren wrote in an email.
Many of the bill’s supporters had similar language in their arguments, often seemingly reading from the same prepared remarks that frequently cited alleged voter fraud instances in Buncombe County.
But the more than three- hour discussion provided plenty of heated ad lib comments.
Some argued the bill would affect poor, minority or college-age voters the most as a blatant example of voter suppression. Supporters argued increased integrity would bring out more voters.
Guy Smith, a private business owner, said fellow businessmen have remarked to him that the appearance of a leaky system keeps voters away from the polls.
“I think the fact that we don’t have voter photo ID suppresses the vote,” he said. “I talk to people in businesses that I do business with everyday and they don’t vote because they say, ‘Well, what does it matter? My vote doesn’t matter because someone’s going to show up and vote and we can’t tell if they can or can’t legally do so.’ ”
But critics like Vicky Boyer, of Orange County, said the bill goes against the fundamental structure of democracy.
“In our country, everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” she said. “Voter ID requirements say everyone is guilty until proven innocent.”
Others said it would boost voter confidence and could in fact build trust in the GOP brand for college students.
Jonathan Bandy, of Wake County, said the bill takes a step for conservative leaders trying to woo young voters.
“If you want to take a step to change young voters’ apathy, this is the first step,” he said.
A committee room on the sixth-floor of the legislative building was packed with many supporters wearing white and red paper badges, saying “ID me. I support Voter ID.” Critics wore black and white signs, advocating against.
Buncombe County resident Don Yelton — who referred several times to voter fraud instances in the county — went further than most supporters and called for a more restrictive bill.
“It’s a no-brainer. The bill before you is weak as water,” he said. “You’ve got too many ways for them to get their ID.”
Another supporter, a Southport resident, said he had attempted voter fraud at a senior center in his hometown, but concluded that “no laws were broken,” he said.
Allison Harrison, a UNC student from Burlington, criticized lawmakers for setting the public hearing on a weekday with a one-week notice.
As a student of social work, she also dug into the bill that she said would target poor citizens. “It addresses an almost non-existent problem,” Harrison said, later adding, “Photo ID will take us backward.”
The bill is expected to go before a House vote in about two weeks.