Voter ID proposal clears House Elections Committee

Apr. 17, 2013 @ 11:27 PM

A bill requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls was endorsed Wednesday by a North Carolina House Committee.

Republicans in the House Elections Committee overcame solid Democratic opposition to advance the bill, 23-11. The vote followed more than two hours of mostly unsuccessful amendments from Democrats who wanted to broaden the forms of acceptable ID and ease restrictions.

Voter ID is a contentious issue nationally and on the state level. Republican lawmakers say it ensures election integrity but Democrats label it an attempt to suppress voter turnout in the name of a problem that lacks documented proof.

The first of three committee votes capped off a monthlong series of hearings to gather input from supporters and opponents. The bill heads to the Finance Committee on Thursday, followed by the Appropriations Committee and a full vote on the House floor next week.

It would require voters to present one of eight forms of state-issued ID or an ID from a public college, beginning in 2016. Voters who lack ID on Election Day could cast a provisional ballot, but it wouldn't be counted unless they return to a local board of election with ID before results are reviewed. A failed amendment from Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, would have allowed voters to mail in an affidavit signed under penalty of perjury instead of returning in person.

Under the latest version, registered voters who say they don't have a copy of a birth certificate or marriage license could obtain a special ID free of charge. A previous version required a sworn statement of financial hardship enforced under penalty of perjury.

Democrats failed to muster enough votes for amendments adding IDs from the state's private colleges and public high schools to the list of acceptable forms, but another amendment adding ID for recipients of public assistance passed. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg and a primary sponsor of the bill, said private schools were left out intentionally because they blur the line of what's acceptable.

An amendment from bill sponsors removed tribal IDs from the list of accepted forms, saying further research was needed to determine whether they would comply with the act. Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan and a bill sponsor, said most tribes in the state aren't federally recognized and don't carry government-issued IDs.

Kicking off debate after amendments went through were Democratic lawmakers who recalled the pains of the Civil Rights era and the hard-fought gains for voter equality.

Rep. Evelyn Terry, D-Forsyth, said she remembers the feeling of seeing her illiterate grandfather finally cast a vote after being turned away from the polls again and again during her childhood.

"I simply have the picture of those times in my mind, and therefore there is just nothing, even in spite of all the work and all the due diligence that could happen, that would make me support something that lends itself to making it so difficult for an American citizen to go and cast a vote," she said.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said Terry painted a moving portrait, but the days when voters knew the poll workers checking them in are long past, and the state needs a modern election system that protects against the potential for fraud.

"Unfortunately, continuing to hold onto those photographs as if it were yesterday and nothing has changed is making it extremely difficult for us to really move forward and make progress in a lot of areas," she said.