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UPDATE: The voter ID bill, House Bill 351, was introduced late Monday, March 14. It reads: “Every individual seeking to vote in person shall present a valid photo identification to a local election official at a voting place before voting there there.” The bill is scheduled to be discussed in the N.C. House of Representatives today, Tuesday, March 15, at 2 p.m. Watch streaming video from the session on WRAL.
Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly plan to propose a bill requiring citizens to present valid photo identification when they vote, a measure that could create more costs for the state and place additional burdens on older voters, a large and growing demographic in Western North Carolina.
An analysis by Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies, which sponsors Carolina Public Press, concluded that enacting such a law could cost the state an additional $18 million to $20 million over three years to implement.
When asked about the Republican plan to try to pass a voter photo identification law, North Carolina State Board of Elections Larry Leake recently said, on Feb. 28, “I don’t have real strong feelings about it one way or the other.”
Leake, a Madison County attorney and Democrat, said he thought the Facing South/ISS cost estimates for implementing such a law sounded high.
While he said he did not have specifics about the yet-to-be-filed bill, Leake also said he did not think such a law would create great challenges for local boards of election.
Current identification requirements
Poll workers already are required to check for identification in certain voting situations, Leake said, although that identification does not always need to be in the form of a photo ID.
When someone registers to vote in North Carolina, his or her identification is cross-checked with North Carolina driver’s license and Social Security information. According to state law, if a first-time voter’s data does not match, he or she must present specific identification upon voting for the first time.
Valid identification in this situation can be a current driver’s license or other form of government-issued photo identification. It also can be a document – a utility bill, a pay stub or W-2, a bank statement or a document from a government agency that has the voter’s name and current address.
Older citizens make up large voting block
AARP North Carolina Communications Director Bob Garner said that with voter fraud not being a significant issue in North Carolina, AARP North Carolina’s position is that a proposed voter photo identification law is unnecessary and burdensome to older citizens.
“The people we represent are the most faithful voting block of all, yet more likely to not have a photo ID,” Garner said.
After someone gives up driving, for example, it is not uncommon for that person to not maintain photo identification, he said. Older widows sometimes keep bills, bank statements and other accounts in their deceased spouses’ names, Garner said.
Several Western North Carolina counties have larger percentages of people age 65 and older as compared with other counties and with North Carolina as a whole, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
North Carolina had 1.14 million registered voters age 65 and older at the time of the November 2008 elections, according to the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. These senior voters had a 76 percent turn-out in those elections compared with a statewide turn-out of 70 percent.
“It’s a population that registers to vote and votes consistently,” Garner said. “A (voter) photo ID law is just going to be an inconvenience and obstacle, and we don’t see that it’s right.”
State sends letters to 637 asking for ID verification
Veronica Degraffenreid, elections liaison with the state Board of Elections, said the agency would follow whatever is mandated by any law the legislators pass.
“There are measures already in place that we believe have kept voter fraud at bay…We do our best to have a clean voter database,” she said.
One such measure is taking the statewide voter database and cross-referencing it with U.S. Postal Service change-of-address information, Degraffenreid said. Another is the systematic removal of convicted felons from the voter rolls, she said.
These processes “are ensuring we’ve not seen widespread voter fraud,” Degraffenreid said.
Another recent effort to prevent voter fraud involved the state Board of Elections, on Feb. 22, mailing a citizenship inquiry letter to 637 registered voters holding “legal presence” driver’s licenses across the state.
“Legal presence” driver’s licenses are issued to people who are not United States citizens but who are present legally in North Carolina, said Don Wright, general counsel for the state Board of Elections. People in North Carolina on work visas, for example, might possess “legal presence” driver’s licenses.
These 637 registered voters — out of more than 6.1 million registered voters in North Carolina — were identified when the state Board of Elections recently cross-checked voter registrations with North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles records.
The “vast majority” of the citizenship inquiry letters were sent to people in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, Wright said, though some were sent to people in Western North Carolina, too. For example, Wright said letters were sent to 14 Buncombe County residents, eight Henderson County residents and one Haywood County resident.
As of March 7, Wright said 114 of these 637 registered voters had responded to the Board of Elections’ letter and had provided documentation proving they were U.S. citizens.
Thirty-eight registered voters were determined to not be U.S. citizens, so they were removed from the voter registrations rolls, he said. Of those 38, five had voted in an election, Wright said. The state Board of Elections was waiting for responses from the recipients of the remaining 485 letters.
Wright said he had “no opinion about voter fraud” with regards to the results of the mailing and that any determination of voter fraud would be up to district attorneys.