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Monday, December 6, 2010

North Carolina Voter ID Law In The Works: Voter Fraud Prevention

GOP Wants Photo IDs For N.C. Voters

The next time N.C. Voters go to the polls, they may have to offer more than their names and signatures. They might need a photo ID.

Republicans who take control of the General Assembly in January want to make North Carolina the 10th state requiring voters to show a driver's license or other photo ID. House leaders hope to pass a bill in their first 100 days.

Supporters call it a common-sense way to avoid Voter Fraud.

"It's necessary to ensure the integrity of the entire system," says GOP Rep. Ric Killian, a Charlotte Republican who sponsored a similar measure in 2009.

Skeptics fear it would dampen turnout, particularly among the elderly and disadvantaged, who tend to vote Democratic. Some say it's simply unnecessary.

"It's largely addressing a problem that doesn't exist," says Chris Kromm, executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham. "You have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than having a case of voter fraud."

But use of voter IDs is growing.

Since 2003, 12 states have enacted some form of ID requirement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition to the nine states that demand a photo ID, 18 others require some form of identification.

Senator: It's 'common sense'

Republican Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston County said that "just makes common sense."

"My constituents, the overwhelming majority of them, are absolutely appalled that there is no required photo identification when you go and vote," he says.

ID proponents say they're concerned about voters misrepresenting themselves, voting more than once or engaging in some other type of fraud. How widespread the problem is is unclear.

In 2007 the New York University's Brennan Center for Justice issued a report saying "most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless." An initial report by the federal Election Assistance Commission that year also concluded that fraud was rare, though a controversial final version said there was "a great deal of debate" about how widespread it was.

In North Carolina, state elections director Gary Bartlett says there were 18 cases of double-voting in 2008 out of millions of votes cast.

It's also unclear to what extent a photo ID requirement might depress turnout.

Indiana's experience

In Indiana, which has one of the country's most stringent ID requirements, 2.8 million people voted in the 2008 general election. A later study showed that 1,039 lacked a valid ID and had to cast a provisional ballot. They had 10 days to go to an elections office and either show an ID or sign an affidavit explaining why they couldn't.

Only 137 were ultimately counted.

"That probably undercounts people who were disenfranchised," says Michael Pitts, an Indiana University law professor who co-authored the study. "Others knew they didn't have an ID and didn't bother to vote."

NYU's Brennan Center says as many as 10 percent of eligible voters lack documents required by some ID laws. For some groups, the percentage is higher.

Jennie Bowser, an NCSL election analyst, says it's not clear how effective photo IDs would be in either preventing fraud or in stifling turnout.

"Unfortunately," she says, "there's not a whole lot of evidence to support the claims of either side."

Some see partisan motives behind the GOP efforts.

"Most of it is being driven by the erroneous perception of Republicans that the best thing that can happen to them is rain on election day," says Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. "A lot of Republicans believe they have a better chance of winning if the turnout's low."

But Killian says nobody should balk at an ID requirement.

"What's the harm in folks having to show identification to show they're a citizen?" he says. "That's not too much to ask to participate in this great democracy."

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Sources: McClatchy Newspapers, WRAL, Google Maps

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