The House Elections Committee today held a two hour public hearing on House Bill 351, the so-called “Restore Confidence in Government” bill that could better be called the “Voter Suppression Act.” The Committee heard from dozens of speakers, both for and against the proposal which would require government issued photo identification to be shown by registered voters in North Carolina before they could vote. Early on in the proceedings, one proponent of the bill urged the Committee to “look at the facts.” But when one really examines the facts, there is no real justification for these types of efforts to suppress the vote.
The fact is that a breakdown of registered voters in NC that do not have a state issued photo ID of any kind showed African American voters are almost twice as likely as white voters not to have an ID. The fact is that a study in Wisconsin showed that only 22% of African American males between the ages of 18 and 24 have valid drivers’ licenses and a study in Georgia found that 36% of Georgians over the age of 75 do not have a drivers’ license. The studies go on and on, but what they establish is the fact that voter ID requirements disproportionately affect young, elderly, disabled, African American, and Latino voters.
The fact is that a recent survey showed that 10% of American adults don’t have a photo ID. The fact is that while HB 351 only provides for $600,000 to fund this bill, other smaller states have spent millions implementing their voter ID bills. That is because the Supreme Court, while upholding voter ID requirements, also recognized the fact that obtaining a photo ID is burdensome for those who are not privileged enough to own a car or who have limited mobility for whatever reason. That is, no doubt, why the Court has only approved of photo ID requirements to vote that also provide for a free and easily obtainable photo ID. Requiring voters to travel into the County Board of Elections office or DMV is not easy for some in rural parts of the state or others who have no accessible form of transportation.
The bottom line fact is that voting is a fundamental right that is at the heart of our democratic process, not a privilege that only some should have. Any proposal that creates the potential for thousands of voters to be turned away from the polls on Election Day should be rejected, no matter what small perceived benefit it may have.