The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 24th

NC legislators propose to alter voting rules before 2012

A flurry of efforts by Republican state legislators to alter voting procedures has been viewed by some as an assault on voting rights in the state.

Several pieces of voting legislation have passed one chamber of the N.C. General Assembly and are being deliberated in committees. The bills would ban straight-party ticket voting on ballots, shorten the early voting period by one week and require a form of state-issued photo identification at polling places.

Voting legislation

Lawmakers at the N.C. General Assembly have proposed a number of bills that would affect voting in the state:

  • H351: House bill titled “Restore Confidence in Government” would require a form of state-issued photo ID.
  • S411: Senate bill titled “Vote for the Person, Not the Party Act” would eliminate straight-party ticket voting.
  • H658: House bill titled “Change Early Voting Period” would permit voting no earlier than the second Thursday before an election.

The voter ID bill, also known as “Restore Confidence in Government,” has received the most criticism from voting rights advocacy groups.

The groups say the bill will inhibit low-income, minority and elderly residents that are more likely to lack driver’s licenses from voting. A report by the state’s Fiscal Research Division found there are 885,537 registered voters without valid driver’s licenses or non-operators ID cards.

Republican sponsors of the bill say the ID requirement is a necessary measure to deter voter fraud. Adam Sotak, organizing director for Democracy North Carolina, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for civic engagement, said the claim by Republican legislators is unsubstantiated.

“I’m still waiting for them to show me some proof on this widespread voter fraud,” he said. “The facts tell us that it’s extremely rare in N.C. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning.”

But Susan Myrick, an elections analyst at the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative policy organization in the state, said voter fraud is not limited to cases that are reported.

“Fraud is supposed to be secretive,” she said. “Nobody really knows if there is voter impersonation fraud primarily because there are no specific rules against it.”

Critics of the Republican-backed bill also say it is a thinly-veiled measure to ensure a Republican presidential candidate earns the state’s electoral votes in the 2012 election. President Barack Obama won the state by less than 15,000 votes in 2008.

If the bill is signed into law, N.C. would become the eighth state in the country to require voters to provide a photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said the bill still “needs a lot of work” in committee if it will be successfully implemented before the 2012 elections. The $500,000 provisioned for voter education programs will be insufficient to properly inform voters about the changes, he said.

“Whenever you make a voting change of this magnitude — and make no mistake, this is the single largest change of voting procedure in decades — you need to let people know about it,” he said.

Myrick said the potential ban on straight-ticket voting could actually be an aid for voters. Many voters do not realize that the straight-ticket option does not include the presidential candidates, she said.

“If you look at the number of voters and then look at the number of presidential votes, there’s a significant drop,” she said.

Chris Mackey, press secretary for Gov. Bev Perdue, said the governor opposes efforts by legislators to limit voter accessibility.

Mackey said Perdue would not comment on whether she would veto any of the bills because they are still in committee.

Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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