Election attorneys and representatives of advocacy groups speaking to North Carolina House members disagreed Wednesday on the wisdom of requiring photo identification to vote, but offered additional ways to reduce the potential for voter fraud.
The House Elections Committee held a two-hour panel discussion with supporters and opponents of a photo ID mandate when casting ballots. It came a day after holding a public hearing on the issue that attracted hundreds and lasted into the evening.
Like Tuesday's speakers, panelists opposed to photo ID requirements said they solve a problem that rarely occurs in North Carolina elections - people impersonating registered voters. It also places large obstacles for older adults, young people and black residents without qualified ID cards to carry out a fundamental right, said Keesha Gaskins, a senior attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
"It creates an illusion of security that does not exist, while offering no real solution to any identified problem with elector administration while simultaneously creating serious consequences for many legal and qualified voters," Gaskins said.
Photo ID supporters said traditional methods to identify voters at the polls - such as through poll workers who know local residents in small towns - don't work anymore. For example, more than half of the 4.5 million voters in last November's election cast ballots during the early-voting period, most at voting centers not in their home precinct.
"We are no longer rural and we no longer vote at home precincts," said Francis Deluca, president of the Civitas Institute in Raleigh. "We need to update our ballot access and ballot protections, just as we have updated our ability to register to vote and to vote."
The question-and-answer session is the latest step by House Republicans who pledged a deliberative process while developing voter ID legislation and passing it through the chamber next month. GOP lawmakers hold the cards with creating a voter ID law because of expanded majorities and support for the idea from new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Another committee meeting is scheduled for next week.
Bob Hall with the election law reform group Democracy North Carolina told Republicans in the committee to focus upon attracting the one-third of registered voters that didn't vote last November to participate in the electoral process, rather than turning others away.
"I would encourage you to use the tools of voter engagement rather than the tools of voter suppression," Hall said. Many speakers at Tuesday's public hearing likened photo ID to a poll tax and other tactics by political leaders in the first half of the 20th century to prevent black residents from voting.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington and photo ID supporter, held up what appeared to be his driver's license to the committee.
"This is not Jim Crow. This is not police dogs. This is not a fire hose," von Spakovsky said, referring to law enforcement tactics used against activists during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Hall and von Spakovsky suggested other ways to ensure people who vote are who they say they are.
Hall said statistical surveys could be performed after each election to determine whether someone who came to a precinct to vote really did so. He also said urged legislators to consider safeguards on mail-in absentee ballots, which require a signature by the applicant to be counted.
While overall voter fraud remains extremely low, Hall said. "The mail-in absentee method is the preferred way that people will cheat and it is a place where you need to add security if you're worried about security."
Von Spakovsky said North Carolina should participate in an interstate voter registration exchange to cross-check voter rolls and remove people who have moved out of state as a way to reduce the clutter of outdated information.
Committee member Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, said he's worried people with sinister intentions could take names of registered voters who are still listed as living at a previous address and impersonating them.
"What would stop that from happening?" he asked. Hall responded that requiring photo identification wouldn't solve the problem because people could just attempt to produce phony IDs with the same information.