Legislation to require voters to show a photo ID began moving through the state House on Wednesday after a debate that touched on some of the most sensitive subjects in politics – vote stealing, race, newly arrived Hispanic voters, and voter suppression. The House Election Committee, in a party-line Republican 23-11 vote, passed a bill requiring voters to produce a government-approved photo ID before being allowed to vote in the 2016 election. But poll workers would begin asking for photos on a voluntary basis next year under the bill. The measure heads to the House floor next week – after several quick stops in two other House committees – before going to the Senate.
The House committee vote capped months of public hearings, marches, rallies, conversations on talk radio and letters to the editor as the Republican-controlled legislature moved to fulfill a campaign promise to pass a voter ID bill.
Republicans called the bill a common sense precaution against voter fraud, in an age when identity fraud is common, when fewer poll workers personally know voters, when hundreds of thousands of Hispanics have moved into the state, many without legal status.
“State-wide polls are pretty obvious that the people of North Carolina favor it by at least 3-1,” said Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville dentist and a Republican. “I can assure you that people I represent are for this bill. … I want to live in a society and a nation and a state that respects the dignity and the importance of voting and I believe that is what this legislation intends to do.”
But Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Democratic attorney from Durham and the first black U.S. attorney from the South, said the measure violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution because it created different classes of voters – those with photo identification and those without. He predicted North Carolina would spend large sums defending it in court.