CHAPEL HILL – In late June, the General Assembly’s Senate Rules Committee announced it would go forward with a bill requiring North Carolina voters to show some form of identification before voting.
House Bill 253, had been held up before a Senate vote while its sponsors waited to see how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states and counties with a history of racially-motivated voter suppression, like neighboring Caswell and Person Counties, to get approval from the federal government before making changes to voting policy.
Among the forms of I.D. allowed are “an unexpired North Carolina driver’s license,” “an unexpired United States passport” and “an unexpired United States military identification card.”
Ellie Kinnaird, state senator for Orange County, opposes the bill but says provisions to allow student I.D. and driver’s licenses for residents who have not driven in 10 years are positive additions.
“They’ve really responded to a lot of the criticism,” Kinnaird says. “But there’s still a big problem, with 600,000 people who do not have those.”
House speaker Thom Tillis says the bill’s goal is to restore confidence in government.
Critics of the bill say that those who are most likely to not have a government-issued I.D. like a driver’s license are lower-class and minority voters.
Opponents, like Kinnaird, call the bill “voter suppression” because lower-class and minority voters tend to vote Democratic and the legislature pushing the voter I.D. bill is predominantly Republican.
To illustrate that argument, 85 percent of African-Americans and 52 percent of Latinos voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton, as opposed to 29 percent of white voters who did the same.
In addition, 49 percent of voters making less than $50,000 a year voted for Dalton, as opposed to 39 percent of voters making $50,000 or more.
With Senate Republicans announcing that they are going forward in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, Kinnaird believes this step makes the motives of the bill’s sponsors clear.
“What is says to me is what were their motives? Well, maybe voter suppression,” Kinnaird says.
For voters who do not have any of the forms of identification listed, HB253 allows the state board of election to issue voter registration cards. To get one, residents must submit “a current and valid photo identification” or “a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document” that has the resident’s name and address.
Kinnaird describes this application process as a “hassle.”
“Some people have to get a birth certificate and that can cost as much as $30,” Kinnaird says.
In addition to the voter I.D. bill, Kinnaird spoke out against Senate Bill 667, passed by the Senate in early April, which would take away a family’s ability to write off a child in college as a dependent if that child is registered to vote at a different address than its parents, like where the child is going to school.
“There are three demographic groups that didn’t vote in 2010 as they had in 2008 and one of those is students,” Kinnaird says. “This is a pretty obvious way if you’re interested in reducing a demographic group from voting.”
HB253 also sets up an advisory council to inform North Carolinians about what forms of identification are needed to vote.