The hot voter ID button seems to only be getting hotter these days. Many arguments have been floating around as to why or why not HB 351, “Restore Confidence in Government,” should be passed. I would like to share a slightly different perspective on the issue.
In the 2008 General Election I found myself in a very odd situation – one that might have been easily avoided if voters were required to show photo ID. As I walked into a Wake County polling center I was greeted with news that I had voted earlier in the day.
A vote had been cast in my name but the voter had not been me. I was still able to vote, because in less than five minutes the poll worker decided that my father had voted in my place earlier that day; a poll worker mistakenly gave him my label to vote. My father and I share the same name, he is the third and I am the fourth. It was decided that whoever helped my father had not noticed the difference in our names and ages.
The poll worker’s judgment call allowed me to vote a regular ballot that I placed in the tabulator. At the time, I was grateful for their decision as it facilitated my voting process. In retrospect I believe it was a risky decision. I should have been required to cast a provisional ballot and let the county board of elections rule on the matter. It is disconcerting that a poll worker could make such a decision without truly knowing if it was my father who voted earlier that morning.
Ironically, the poll worker asked me to show her my ID before casting my ballot.
The poll worker’s guess fortunately turned out to be true, but if I were a dishonest man, her decision would have facilitated fraud.
When my father checked in to vote, the only verification he provided was his name and a verbal “yes” when asked if he lived at a certain address. This means that if I was aware that my neighbors were out of town and did not fill out an absentee ballot, I could walk up and cast their vote myself. From there all that stands in my way is my ability to say “yes” and smile as they read off an address.
The current law requires that voters state their name and address. It only takes five minutes worth of memorization to be able to recall someone’s name and address when prompted.
HB 351 seems to be a no-brainer and is heavily backed by North Carolina citizens. A poll put on by the Civitas Institute shows that nearly 70 percent of voters support the bill. However, Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the bill saying that it would create a burden and “unfairly disenfranchise voters.” It does not make sense that she would veto something so widely supported. Perdue argues that the legislation will harm the African-American voting community.
Over the July 4th weekend, however, the Rhode Island legislature enacted a similar law requiring voters to present a photo ID. The bill was co-sponsored by state senator Harold Mets, an African-American Democrat.
Mets defended his actions by saying, “As a minority citizen and a senior citizen I would not support anything that I thought would present obstacles or limit protections, but in this day and age, very few adults lack one of the forms of identification that will be accepted, and the rare person who does can get a free voter ID card from the Secretary of State.”
North Carolina’s voter ID legislation has similar requirements to Rhode Island’s law. As a possible veto override approaches, let’s hope the North Carolina legislature sides with the public and takes the necessary steps to prevent voter fraud and reconsider a fair, but firm, voter photo ID bill.
Will Garvey is an intern at the Civitas Institute in Raleigh (nccivitas.org). This op-ed originally appeared in Wake Weekly and the Lincoln Tribune.