RALEIGH, N.C. -- Critics of a proposed voter photo ID law vowed Thursday to launch a vigorous effort to fight the proposal, saying it amounted to a 21st-century version of the poll tax used to keep blacks from voting.
The state NAACP leads a coalition of groups that said they planned to contest a voter ID bill in the legislature even though it is clear that the Republican majority has the votes to pass it and that GOP Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign it.
We will fight them in the courts, we will fight them in the streets, and voters will fight them by turning out and voting, said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, a major national civil rights group that is legally challenging voter ID laws across the country. She described North Carolina as ground zero in the national fight.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, rejected Republican arguments that the requirement for a photo ID at the polls was designed to protect against voter fraud. He said that North Carolinians have voted for 237 years without requiring a photo ID and that the push for the law was a conservative backlash against increased black voter registration that grew out of the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
What is going on here is a large number of African-Americans, Latinos and students who came into the electorate have scared people, have changed the electoral process, Barber said. And the only way to stop (it) is to try to put up barricades.
He said he expected the Republican legislature to also push other bills to restrict voter franchise, such as limiting early voting, Sunday voting and same-day voter registration.
But Rep. David Lewis of Dunn, who is heading the voter ID effort, said the intent of the legislative effort was to improve the integrity of the voting process, not to discourage people from voting.
The Republicans in the General Assembly are committed to making sure that every citizen who is entitled to vote has not only the opportunity to vote, but is encouraged and informed about the voting process, Lewis said. And perhaps most importantly, can have confidence that their vote counts in determining who wins elections.
He called voter ID a reasonable and logical step to make sure that people are who they say they are. He said voter ID has broad public support.
Barriers to getting an ID
Barber, however, likened the voter ID bill to a poll tax, one of the tactics used in the early 20th century by white supremacists to prevent blacks from voting. That is because, Barber said, it would likely cost voters who do not have North Carolina drivers licenses to get a state-approved identity card.
Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said it was often costly and time-consuming in other states such as Pennsylvania for people get birth certificates including women who had changed names in order get voter ID cards.
The Advancement Project filed an ongoing suit against Pennsylvanias voter ID law, and it has also brought voting rights actions in Ohio and Florida.
We went to the (Pennsylvania) DMV offices to see how easy it was to get this ID, Hair said. What we found was that people were being turned away. They were being told they were not eligible because they were born in other states and did not have a birth certificate, or they were a student and did not have a drivers license.