Voter ID bill passes second committee, gets another Tuesday

Apr. 18, 2013 @ 08:39 PM

A bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls passed its second committee test in the North Carolina House Thursday.

The House Finance Committee endorsed the measure on a party-line vote after Democrats again proposed amendments to ease restrictions. The one amendment passed would allow a voter who isn't yet registered to obtain free identification with the Division of Motor Vehicles.

A number of Republican-controlled legislatures have pushed voter ID laws in recent years. The issue drew national attention in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election as opponents challenged some of those bills in court. Republican lawmakers say voter ID ensures election integrity, but Democrats say there's little evidence of fraud at the polls and the true goal is voter suppression.

Beginning in 2016, voters would have to present one of eight forms of state-issued ID or an ID from a public college. 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.

Voters who say they don't have a copy of a birth certificate or marriage license could obtain a special ID free of charge.

General Assembly staff anticipate those IDs could cost the state up to $930,000 over five years, according to a memo distributed to Finance Committee members. Including additional State Board of Election staffing and technology needs, total costs could reach $3.7 million over five years, depending on the number of people who seek free ID.

The staff analysis did not include the costs of an education campaign to inform voters of changes before the bill goes into effect. The analysis noted, however, that Georgia reported spending $840,000 over 14 months on a statewide campaign when it implemented its voter ID law.

The House Elections Committee OK'd the bill Wednesday after hours of amendment attempts and a highly charged debate between older Democratic lawmakers who recalled the disenfranchisement of the Jim Crow era and Republicans who said that time has passed. Some of that debate spilled into the Finance Committee, but discussion was mostly confined to final amendments.

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, successfully pushed for an amendment that would allow unregistered voters who lack ID to obtain a free special ID at a Division of Motor Vehicles branch if they sign an affidavit swearing their intention to register. The law previously required a voter seeking free ID to already be registered, but Ross said she wanted to prevent multiple trips for a poor or elderly voter.

The bill's next stop is the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, followed by the House floor Wednesday and Thursday for approval.