RALEIGH — The new Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly is already making clear that one of its first acts will be to ensure that voters are who they say they are when going to the polls.
For as long as I’ve been covering legislative politics, GOP legislators have been shadow boxing mostly unseen, unproven voter fraud.
A critical way to combat fraud, Republicans argue, is to require that voters show some voter identification at the polls. Come January, they are prepared to pass legislation to that effect.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, say requiring photo identification could discourage some voters from turning out.
“There’s not a whole lot of evidence to support the claims of either side,” Jennie Bowser, an election analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, recently told The Charlotte Observer.
I suspect that she’s right.
State Elections Director Gary Bartlett says that there were 18 documented case of double-voting in 2008, out of millions of votes cast. More importantly, whether it’s vote buying or double-voting, there have been few documented cases anywhere in recent years showing that type of activity affected a race’s outcome.
Simple logic suggests that trying to illegally sway an election one voter at a time will either be ineffective or get you caught. It’s also a felony, a penalty which should act as a bigger deterrent than any requirement to flash a picture ID.
Still, joining the nine other states that require a photo ID would likely result in miniscule numbers of voters being turned away from the polls.
Voter advocacy groups have tried to show that photo ID requirements can drive down voter participation and that large numbers of people don’t have proper identification. Studies don’t really support those conclusions.
Legislative Republicans will also have to come up with some tax money for their proposal.
North Carolina currently charges $10 for state nondriver’s license photo IDs. To use those IDs as a requirement for voting will mean that they have to be free of charge. Otherwise, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide that the ID card acts as a de facto, illegal poll tax.
Some critics of voter photo ID requirements say Republicans are looking for political advantage, believing that driving down voter participation might benefit them. If so, they are likely to be disappointed.
Older voters, who skew Republican in this state, are just as likely as poorer voters, who skew Democrat, to be without a photo ID. And again, the numbers on either side are likely to be so small that they have no effect on any individual race. (A study in Indiana found less than one-tenth of one percent of voters voted provisionally because they were without a proper photo ID.)
What legislative Republicans should fear is that a requirement is so poorly crafted that local poll workers can use it to turn away voters with a valid ID.
If that happens, the voter fraud will have been committed in the Legislature Building, and voters will know who to blame.
Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.