Saturday, February 5, 2011


By Cash Michaels

            While most North Carolinians anxiously expect their state lawmakers to make jobs and an improved economy their number one priorities, Republican legislators have different ideas about what’s really important.
            Like voter identification.
            The GOP-led NC General Assembly, convened a week ago amid a looming $3.7 billion budget gap they have to find ways to close, have made it clear that they have a 100-day laundry list of  “culture war” priorities that are, in their opinion, equally as important.
            Stopping the federal individual mandate that compels people to purchase health insurance, otherwise known in conservative circles as “Obamacare,” was the first bill to fly through committee. The next pressing issue to get the four-alarm treatment is pushing through legislation to require every voter in North Carolina to brandish an official photo identification when they go to the polls.
            The GOP concern - that North Carolina is rife with voter fraud, especially in communities of color, and photo ID’s are the only way to root them out.
            The evidence, according to civil rights advocates like Democracy NC and the NCNAACP, is next to nothing.
            “This is a major threat,” says Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina. “The price involves our friends, neighbors, parents and grandmothers being told that they can't vote. That's an unacceptable price to pay, for no benefit.”
            Attorney Irv Joyner, chairman of the NCNAACP Legal Redress Committee, sees that danger.
            “The voter-ID proposal…has the very real potential of being used in a discriminatory manner and will place an unacceptable burden on people who do have and/or cannot afford to obtain photo-identification,” Joyner, also a professor at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law, says. “People who are too poor to afford this expense or to old or infirm to obtain it will be negatively impacted. For me, the biggest, but not the only, issue is that the exercise of the constitutional right to vote should not be conditioned by a monetary requirement before a person can utilize it.”
            Republicans counter that twenty-states across the US, including Georgia, already have some type of voter ID requirement on the books. Plus, the US Supreme Court has ruled that voter ID’s are acceptable under certain conditions. So if most people already have official photo identification to drive or for social services, why the opposition?
“I understand that point,” Prof. Joyner says. “Their focus is on those people who have photo-identification already. My focus is on the large undetermined number of people who do not have this identification.”
 “{Clearly, the requirement is not a burden for those who have the ID and are willing to show it,” Joyner continued. “For an elderly person, for example, who is infirm and not ambulatory, requiring that person to obtain this ID can be costly and discouraging. The same is true for a poor teenager who is not a licensed driver and does not use or need photo-ID in their daily interactions or a poor middle-age single mother who is receiving state benefits and does not have a bank account or drivers license or even a mature revolutionary individual who just refuses to produce this ID on principal.”
Prof Joyner concluded, “Why do we require them to get this ID just to exercise a right which they have and in the absence of any evidence that fraud in the voter process has taken place? If the person is registered to vote, they have already assured the voter registrar that they are eligible to exercise this right.”
NC Republicans respond to criticisms of their voter ID imitative with a poll. According to a January poll by the conservative Civitas Institute, 96 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats are in favor of voter ID’s.
            “Research shows an overwhelming majority of voters see photo ID's as a common-sense approach to preventing voter fraud and the U.S Supreme Court agrees with them,” says Francis DeLuca, president of the Civitas Institute.
            But NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber isn’t buying it. He sees this Republican-led effort as another way to both undermine and roll back the civil rights gains of the past fifty years, in this case, using the voter ID law as a tool of voter suppression in black and Hispanic communities of color.
            “They want to pass legislation that panders to old fears and prejudices, “ Rev. Barber said last week, while promoting the upcoming Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly and March on Saturday, Feb. 12th in Raleigh.
            “Voter ID legislation, “Barber said, “is dangerous to civil rights.”
              Data released Friday shows upwards of 1 million North Carolinians do not have photo identification who are of voting age. Names of those already on the voting rolls were compared to DMV records for driver's licenses. Board of Elections officials say that number may drop after close examination.
              Either way, if Republican lawmakers go through with their proposal, they'll have to find a way to pay for it, since the courts have ruled that voter ID's must be free to citizens.
            Editors note - for more information on HKonJ5, go to, or contact your local NAACP chapter.

No comments:

Post a Comment