One item high on the new Republican agenda in the N.C. General Assembly is to require voters to provide proof of identity at polling places. The point, as Rep. Ric Killian, R-Mecklenburg, told reporter Jim Morrill, is "to ensure the integrity of the whole system."
Republicans say they're worried about the prospect of voter fraud in N.C. elections. They want to make sure that only those who are eligible to vote can cast ballots.
But the problem is that there's little evidence of a serious problem. State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett says in the 2008 elections, millions of votes were cast but there were only 18 cases of double voting. That mirrors what other regional and national investigations of voter fraud have found.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law says that actual instances of voter fraud are "extremely rare." Although voter fraud does happen, the center says, it occurs about as often as Americans are struck and killed by lightning. And it says voter ID laws usually reflect a "particular policy agenda" aimed at disenfranchising up to 10 percent of the vote.
In 2008, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said "Despite lack of credible evidence, the myth of voter fraud has increasingly been used to justify policies that suppress political participation by passing laws that threaten to exclude millions of eligible voters, with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, low-income, disabled and minority communities."
Killian argues that a voter ID law is "not too much to ask to participate in this great democracy." On its face, the bill he sponsored in the 2009 House of Representatives does not seem onerous. It would have required voters to present a valid photo ID or one of five other types of documents with the voter's name and address: a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other document. If a voter failed to produce a valid ID at a polling place, the voter could fill out a provisional ballot to be verified later. Those who vote absentee by mail can send copies of a valid photo ID or other document with the ballot.
Opponents of voter ID bills argue that Republicans want only to discourage Democrats from voting, and that the voter ID bill would cut sharply into N.C. voter turnout. They may be disappointed.
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