Updated: 4:46 p.m.
The encouraging news from Raleigh this morning is that Republican lawmakers would like to have a deliberate and productive discussion, even with opponents, on a potential Voter ID bill.
At a news conference at the capitol, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Rep. David Lewis encouraged lawmakers and others who disagree with them to come to the table to talk. Said Tillis: "We're looking for feedback from anyone who wants to engage productively."
The less-than-encouraging news: They've already made up their mind on the issue.
Tillis and Lewis made it clear that when a bill is introduced - probably sometime in April - it will require that voters show a photo ID before casting a ballot. That means no compromise that might involve voters showing forms of ID that didn't include a photo. Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory seemed to voice support earlier this year for accepting such alternatives, but Tillis put an end to that notion today. (Update: McCrory, however, reiterated to the Raleigh News & Observer today that he was open to other forms of ID.)
As for Tillis' invitation to engage in feedback? The key, apparently, is "productively." If you want to talk about anything other than a photo ID, that's not productive.
As we've written before, we could live with Voter ID, but we worry that requiring a photo might unnecessarily block tens of thousands of voters from their constitutional right to cast a ballot. A report in January from the State Board of Elections found as many as 613,000 voters, or 9.25 percent of North Carolina voters, may not have a state-issued driver’s license or identification card.
Lewis said that any bill should address how to get those voters-to-be a valid photo ID. It also should ensure not only that those IDs are free, but that the paperwork required to get the IDs (such as birth certificates) are also free and easy to obtain.
Said Lewis: "The gold standard is that every citizen of this state who is able to vote, who is lawfully allowed to vote, has what they need to participate in the process."
Funny, we thought that's how it already is.
Voter ID laws attack a voter fraud problem that research shows doesn't exist at polling places. Potential fraud is more likely to involve absentee ballots or registration fraud. We're encouraged, at least, that Lewis said he wants a Voter ID bill to also address absentee ballots.
But if Republicans really want to ensure that all eligible voters get an opportunity to cast their ballots, they might want to focus on issues like North Carolina being 11th worst in the country in waiting time at polling places, according to research this month from Pew Charitable Trusts. Or, at the least, they can vow to stop trying to restrict early voting or Sunday voting.
Otherwise, a strict photo ID voting bill seems designed to limit voting, not ensure it.
Peter St. Onge
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: 4:46 p.m.