Who are the opponents of a voter ID requirement? If we rely only on mainstream media, we would believe that all minority groups, especially African Americans and registered Democrats, oppose any legislation requiring a voter to present photo ID in order to cast a vote.
Consequently it may come as a surprise to learn that all segments of North Carolina’s voting population believe that a strong voter photo ID law would prevent voter fraud. The Civitas Institute has polled the voter ID question and consistently found that the overwhelming majority of voters agree that North Carolina should institute a voter ID law. The support is strong with approval across every demographic, including Democrats and African Americans.
In fact, the opponents of voter ID are a small, but loud, alliance of Democratic leaders, ultra-liberal activists and the mainstream media. Across the country, groups like the ACLU, League of Women Voters, NAACP and AARP work together to form a powerful and well-funded coalition to stop voter ID legislation. As evidenced by these group’s talking points and the heated exchanges during the debate on voter ID in North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session, voter ID detractors rely on accusations of racism to strengthen their position, knowing that calling someone a racist is the fastest way to halt debate on any subject.
Therefore it is interesting to learn that there are cracks emerging in the “thin liberal line” in the voter ID debate. The most recent example is former Alabama Congressman Artur Davis. In an October op-ed in the Montgomery Advisor which ran after Alabama passed a new voter ID law, Mr. Davis categorically admits that while an elected official, he was on the wrong side of the voter ID fight.
He writes, “When I was a congressman, I took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician. Without any evidence to back it up, I lapsed into the rhetoric of various partisans and activists who contend that requiring photo identification to vote is a suppression tactic aimed at thwarting black voter participation.”
Davis does not ignore Alabama’s history and discusses the reasons that some would oppose the legislation, especially in the African American community, and decries the fact that race is a “prohibitive indicator” of how the voters of Alabama vote. He discloses details of ongoing voter fraud that most politicians would vehemently deny: “Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally-impaired to function, cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of these ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.”
It takes real courage to stand against one’s party and contemporaries on such a polarizing issue. However, Mr. Davis is not alone. Rhode Island passed a voter ID law this year and one of the legislation’s chief backers, State Senator Harold Metts, is African American, a Democrat and a senior citizen. It is worth noting that Democrats control Rhode Island’s legislature, the governor is an Independent and the State’s Democratic Attorney General was the leader of the push for voter ID.
Though the North Carolina legislature failed in their attempt to enact voter ID legislation due to Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto pen, 2011 proved to be a good year for other states that proposed similar legislation. At least eight states either passed new laws or voted in favor of a constitutional amendment requiring a voter ID. Voters in Alabama, Rhode Island, Tennessee, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas and Mississippi will now be required to present an ID to cast a ballot.
Voter photo ID supporters in North Carolina’s legislature should find inspiration in former Congressman Davis’ story and should push again for voter ID legislation in the 2012 short session, irrespective of Gov. Perdue’s ultimate veto. Given that more than 77 percent of North Carolina voters support voter photo ID, the governor’s re-election campaign will be an ideal time to revisit the issue.
Susan Myrick is an elections analyst at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh (nccivitas.org)
This op-ed originally ran in Wake Weekly and the Lincoln Tribune