League of Women Voters dissect proposed voter ID legislation
According to T.J. Leavell, a Voter I.D. bill will likely become law in North Carolina and will affect more than the four voters who attempted to cast fraudulent ballots last November. The League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted a Q & A forum last Thursday, Mar. 14 at their monthly meeting. The event focused on legislation that has been gaining ground in the last few years around the country, requiring voters to not only register to vote, but to have a photo identification card that matches the address on the registration form.
Leavell is the administrative director for the LWV-NC and took advantage of the hour provided to describe the League's reasons for opposing this new law to the animated crowd in attendance.
“The League of Women Voters has been fighting for voting rights for over 93 years,” said Leavell. “We're opposed to anything that makes voting more difficult and the fact is that a photo I.D. requirement does make that more difficult.”
According to Leavell, four cases of attempted voter impersonation were stopped by polling officials and more than 200 cases involved voters casting ballots in the wrong district during the primaries because of confusion stemming from the redistricting that occurred in the years leading up to the 2012 election cycle.
“The one thing that is important to remember when you're talking about elections is that they're not perfect, mistakes are made and every mistake doesn't mean a crime was committed,” said Leavell. “The key is that in the United States, they're closer to perfect than in most other places.”
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), more than 613,000 people who are registered to vote do not have matching documentation with the DMV. More than 500,000 of those people are active voters. Fifty-four percent of registered voters in N.C. are women, while 67 percent of the people who do not have documentation are women. One possible reason, Leavell said, was that women change their name when they get married.
“People get married and they change their name. That's a process that is difficult,” said Leavell. “As they are changing their name, they get their driver's license renewed under their old name because they have their birth certificate that matches their old name, they have their Social Security number that matches their old name. As it happens, there are lots of people who think they have a photo I.D., but when they would get to the polling place they would find out they couldn't vote.”
The issue that seemed to concern the Indiana native most came with a story concerning his 99-year-old grandmother. When she, along with the rest of the family, decided that she would no longer drive she went to the DMV to get an identification card, but since she had not needed her birth certificate in years, she did not have it with her nor did she know where it was and therefore lacked the proper documentation to get an I.D.
“The fact of the matter is, there are lots of things you can't do without a driver's license in this country, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to surrender your right to vote,” said Leavell.
In North Carolina, a person registering to vote must supply a Social Security number. Those who do not are already required to show a photo I.D. without the passage of the new legislation.
If someone lacks an I.D. and they need to get a copy of their birth certificate in order to get one, if the person lives and was born in N.C. said Leavell, they must pay $24, wait five weeks for the search to be completed with no guarantee that the certificate will be found and then show photo I.D. to get it which can present a problem.
“There are people who are active voters and for whatever reason have surrendered their driver's license or don't have the valid I.D. that matches their picture to their current address, maybe they have one that matches their picture to the previous address, but now they've moved across town,” said Leavell. “So, there are people who fall through the cracks. In N.C. this year we are instituting legislation that will make it difficult for more people who do vote to continue voting, in an attempt to keep people who may try to cheat the system from cheating.
“The Supreme Court says that to avoid a poll tax, a free I.D. must be given. N.C.'s card costs $10. To get a copy of a birth certificate a person would have to pay $24 and a person who is married and needs to change their name would need to pay another $24.”
According to Leavell, if 10 percent of the initial 500,000 voters mentioned by the DMV are issued their $10 I.D., plus the potential of a $24 cost for a birth certificate, the costs could amount to millions of dollars.
Voter I.D. legislation has been spreading throughout the United States with 33 states now requiring some sort of I.D. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures the variety of requirements range from a specified, government-issued I.D. in four states, to other photo identification cards like college I.D.'s, tribal I.D.'s, employment I.D.'s etc., in seven states; and the least strict I.D. requirements like Social Security cards, voter registration cards, credit cards, utility bills etc., in 22 other states, with no restrictions in the remaining 17 states.
In a study conducted by Elon University in February, 72 percent of N.C. citizens surveyed showed support for the voter I.D. legislation with 52 percent of Democrats in support of it, 74 percent of Independents supporting, and 93 percent of Republicans supporting it. The overall number of 72 percent is similar to a survey conducted in March 2012 that found 74 percent of N.C. citizens supporting the legislation. More than 97 percent of those surveyed possessed a photo I.D. And those who did not were under the age of 21 or above the age of 65.
“With 72 percent of people polled in the state wanting I.D., I'm for voter I.D.,” said N.C. Senator Jim Davis. “We need to do everything that we can to tighten our voting and election laws. They're still making the rules. There's no reason that we can't accept a driver's license that is even expired. It doesn't have to be a current driver's license, that should help with the older people who have relinquished their driving privileges.”
“You have to have an I.D. to open a checking account, rent a movie, get on an airplane. There's just so many things in our society that require you to give reasonable assurance that you are who you profess to be and it appears to me that the right to vote would be one of those paramount things. We want to make sure that your vote counts and that it is not diluted by somebody else's vote who is not supposed to be voting,” Davis said.
“People should be concerned with the integrity of their elections. We're not arguing that spending money to protect the integrity of elections is a bad thing, but when you boil the problem down of four people versus a problem for 500,000 people we know that in our current economy that money could be better spent somewhere else doing something else,” said Leavell.