Lawmakers heard from election experts Wednesday who said there was little evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina, but that voter ID laws in other states had not led to voter suppression as critics have predicted. Of the 21 million votes cast in North Carolina since 2000, the State Board of Elections only turned over one case of voter impersonation for prosecution – the sort of fraud that requiring a photo ID is designed to stop. “Voter fraud is rare and cases of voter impersonation even more uncommon,” Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York think tank that has opposed voter ID laws, told a House committee considering legislation to require a photo voter ID. “There is no evidence of coordinated or systemic voter fraud anywhere in the country and there is certainly no evidence here in North Carolina,” Gaskins said. “A voter ID law would not improve North Carolina’s elections, but what we do know is that many North Carolina voters lack the kind of identification required by such a law.”
But supporters of a voter ID law were buttressed by testimony that similar tough laws passed in Georgia and Indiana had not lead to a decline in voter participation. In fact, voter participation in states such as Georgia and Indiana – including those in the African-American communities – has continued to do better than the national average even after passing voter ID bills in 2005 and 2006, said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a think tank which supports voter ID laws.
“This is not Jim Crow,” von Spakovsky said. “This is not police dogs. This is not a fire hose. To say that it is, does a disservice to those who fought in the civil rights movement of the 1950s.”
Since Georgia implemented the voter photo ID bill, the number of African-Americans voting in presidential elections jumped from 834,000 in 2004 to 1.2 million in 2008, the first time Barack Obama ran for president, according to information provided by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. (Opponents noted black participation declined slightly in 2012.)
Georgia, which is roughly the same size as North Carolina, has provided 29,611 free voter photo ID cards since 2006, according to the secretary of state’s office. That is far fewer than warnings that hundreds of thousands could be disenfranchised in North Carolina if a photo ID bill passed. The Georgia effort, including efforts to publicize free voter ID cards, has cost the state $1.7 million.