VOICES: Yes, voter suppression is controversial

By Chris Fitzsimon, NC Policy Watch

It's a telling commentary on the current political dynamics in North Carolina that not only is voter suppression legislation expected to pass early in the 2013 General Assembly session, the head of Raleigh’s leading conservative think tank doesn't even believe it's controversial.

The Republican House and Senate passed one of the most restrictive photo voter ID bills in the country last session, only it to see it vetoed by Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. Lawmakers looking to make it more difficult for some people to vote will have a much friendlier governor next year as fellow Republican Pat McCrory assumes the office.

Voter ID was one of the few specific ideas McCrory embraced during his campaign, at one point even encouraging people to share online places where they are currently required to show an ID, at a bank cashing a check or a convenience store buying beer, etc.

McCrory apparently never considered that the constitution does not guarantee the right to cash a check or buy beer. It does guarantee the right of every citizen to vote -- every citizen.

House Speaker Thom Tillis has admitted that the voter ID bill the General Assembly approved last session would have made it difficult for people with a disability to cast a ballot, but Tillis supported the legislation anyway.

It is not an accident that Republicans like McCrory and Tillis are enthusiastic about a voter ID law. It is part of their political party's strategy to win elections by making it harder for people who don't support them to exercise their constitutional rights. Republicans across the country have explicitly admitted it.

The people most likely not to have a government issued photo ID are far more likely to support Democrats than Republicans. They are also more likely to be elderly, poor, or people of color.

No one can point to any significant voter impersonation fraud in elections in North Carolina or the rest of the country. Most of the cases in the news lately were right-wing activists caught trying to show they could get away with voting in someone else's name.

The conservative think tanker cites a report from the Heritage Foundation about voter fraud in Pennsylvania but one of the cases there involved absentee ballots.

That's where voter fraud is more likely, but it's an area the voter ID bill does not address. Republicans generally do better among absentee voters than Democrats. It's probably just a coincidence that all the railing about voter fraud never includes anything about absentee ballots.

The think tanker also points to polls showing that a majority of people in the state support voter ID laws. That's because the majority of people have a drivers license and don't think much about folks who don't, like the elderly who haven't driven for years or folks in group homes or other facilities where driving is not part of their daily activity.

And let's hope we're not going to start putting constitutional rights up for a popular vote.

The truth is that voter fraud is extremely rare in North Carolina and most cases where it is alleged turn out to be clerical errors, not crimes or nefarious conspiracies.

A lot of pundits who oppose restrictive voter ID laws call them a solution in search of a problem. That's true but it is worse than that. It is political operatives trying to suppress the votes of people who disagree with them to gain or increase political power.

That seems pretty controversial to me.