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Testimony Before North Carolina Assembly Committee on Voter ID

A proposed voter ID requirement is unnecessary in North Carolina. The measure will impose serious barriers for citizens who lack photo ID, and will result in costly burdens to North Carolina’s taxpayers.

  • Keesha Gaskins
Published: March 13, 2013

Good after­noon and on behalf of the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, I want to thank Chairs Moore and Lewis and the Commit­tee for the oppor­tun­ity to speak with you today on the import­ant issue of requir­ing photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion for in-person and absentee voting in North Caro­lina.

My name is Keesha Gaskins; I am a senior coun­sel with the Bren­nan Center. The Bren­nan Center is a nonpar­tisan public policy and legal advocacy organ­iz­a­tion that focuses on funda­mental issues of demo­cracy and justice. As part of our work within the Demo­cracy Program, we promote policies to encour­age free, fair, and access­ible elec­tions, improve the secur­ity of elec­tions and maxim­ize citizen enfran­chise­ment and parti­cip­a­tion in the elect­oral process. Our work toward these goals has included extens­ive research and the public­a­tion of stud­ies and reports, public educa­tion, assist­ance to state and federal policy makers and advice on elect­oral legis­la­tion; and — when neces­sary — litig­a­tion to protect the funda­mental right to vote.

As part of this work, we have paid partic­u­lar atten­tion to the debate over strict voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws. We have commis­sioned research on the number of citizens who lack certain forms of docu­ment­ary proof of iden­tity and citizen­ship. And we have parti­cip­ated as either amicus curiae or as party repres­ent­at­ives in litig­a­tion over strict voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws in Indi­ana, Geor­gia, Arizona, South Caro­lina, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

The Bren­nan Center believes that eligible voters should not be preven­ted from voting because of strict photo ID require­ments. A strict photo ID require­ment for voters in North Caro­lina is unjus­ti­fied for a number of reas­ons: First, reas­on­able interests in improv­ing ballot secur­ity are not mean­ing­fully furthered by strict photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ments. Second, strict photo ID require­ments create seri­ous and unwar­ran­ted prob­lems for voters who lack photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion. Third, proper imple­ment­a­tion of a strict no-photo, no-vote require­ment is a costly and seri­ous burden on taxpay­ers and, as exper­i­enced in almost all other states passing these laws, will very likely result in protrac­ted litig­a­tion.

A strict photo ID require­ment for voters is unne­ces­sary in North Caro­lina

Like many states, North Caro­lin­a’s elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion systems are not prob­lem-free. In last year’s elec­tion, North Caro­lina saw long lines for both early and Elec­tion Day voting. There were also reports of bloated voter regis­tra­tion lists that presen­ted prob­lems for elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors. These are issues that can and should be addressed.

In enact­ing any legis­la­tion related to elec­tions, this body has the heavy burden of determ­in­ing what prob­lem needs to be solved and whether the proposed solu­tion actu­ally serves to remedy that prob­lem. In this case a strict photo ID require­ment cannot address prob­lems related to long lines, inac­cur­ate voter regis­tra­tion lists, or voter malfeas­ance like double voting, felon voting, or vote buying. The only type of voter malfeas­ance that photo ID can address is voter imper­son­a­tion. A photo ID require­ment is the worst kind of elect­oral policy solu­tion — it creates an illu­sion of secur­ity while offer­ing no real solu­tion to any iden­ti­fied prob­lem with elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, while simul­tan­eously creat­ing real consequences for many legal and qual­i­fied voters.

Accord­ing to the North Caro­lina Board of Elec­tions more than 21 million votes have been cast in North Caro­lina over the past 12 years. During that time only one case of voter imper­son­a­tion occurred. And that is one case too many. Fortu­nately, North Caro­lin­a’s elec­tion system and law enforce­ment agen­cies iden­ti­fied the prob­lem and took appro­pri­ate action.

Voter fraud is rare and cases of voter imper­son­a­tion are even more uncom­mon. There is no evid­ence of coordin­ated and systemic voter fraud that threatens Amer­ica’s elec­tions anywhere in the coun­try, and certainly no such evid­ence in North Caro­lina. A strict photo ID law will not improve North Caro­lin­a’s elec­tions, but we do know that many of North Caro­lin­a’s voters and eligible voters lack the kind of iden­ti­fic­a­tion required by such a law.   

Strict photo ID require­ments will impose seri­ous barri­ers for North Caro­lina citizens who lack photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion

Bren­nan Center’s research shows 1 in 10 eligible voters lack the neces­sary govern­ment-issued photo ID required by many no-photo, no-vote voter ID laws, includ­ing 25 percent of African-Amer­ic­ans and 18 percent of Amer­ic­ans over 65. This research is suppor­ted by the Janu­ary 2013 find­ings of North Caro­lin­a’s State Board of Elec­tions, find­ing 612,955 registered voters who do not have a North Caro­lina state photo ID.

What is most telling about the Board of Elec­tions data is what voters would be most impacted by a photo ID require­ment. It’s import­ant to note that 82 percent of the voters that appeared on that list are active voters. Twenty-four percent are over 65 years old and 33 percent of the registered voters without ID were iden­ti­fied as African-Amer­ican, Asian, or Amer­ican Indian. Accord­ing to US Census data those same minor­ity groups make up only 23 percent of the over­all voting age popu­la­tion of North Caro­lina.  

For a person who lacks photo ID, obtain­ing a new photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion card can be resource-intens­ive. Certainly, any photo ID law would require that North Caro­lina create some mech­an­ism for the ID to be free to any and all voters who require one. But the cost of under­ly­ing docu­ment­a­tion to obtain a secure ID is costly, and for the 16 percent of North Caro­lin­a’s citizen’s currently living in poverty, possibly prohib­it­ive. Voters will have to travel some distance to get to an ID-issu­ing office in order to have a photo taken to obtain an ID. For rural voters and the 6.5 percent of North Caro­lin­a’s resid­ents who reside in house­holds without access to a vehicle the abil­ity to access an ID-issu­ing office may be diffi­cult. 

Assur­ing that voters are who they say there are is import­ant and essen­tial to conduct­ing fair elec­tions. There are, however, reas­on­able ways to confirm a voter’s iden­tity through docu­ment­a­tion and mech­an­isms that are access­ible by all voters.

Impos­i­tion of a strict voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws will result in costly burdens to North Caro­lin­a’s taxpay­ers

Strict voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws are contro­ver­sial and in almost every case where a state has passed a strict no-photo, no-vote voter ID law, protrac­ted litig­a­tion has followed. To date, four states have imposed strict voter ID laws on voters: Indi­ana, Geor­gia, Kansas, and Tennessee — with Geor­gia, Indi­ana, and Tennessee having to defend those laws in state or federal court. In addi­tion Alabama, Missis­sippi, Missouri, South Caro­lina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wiscon­sin have passed strict voter ID laws that have been stayed, are subject to delayed imple­ment­a­tion or declared illegal under the Voting Rights Act or state consti­tu­tional law.

Because specific legis­la­tion has not been intro­duced in North Caro­lina this session, it is impossible to say what provi­sions may run afoul of state or federal law, but it is a mistake to presume that the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Craw­ford v. Marion County means that all strict voter ID laws would be consti­tu­tional in all circum­stances. The accept­ab­il­ity of the burden on indi­vidual voters involves a fact-specific inquiry, includ­ing what excep­tions to the photo ID require­ment may be avail­able, whether the photo ID require­ment is exten­ded to absentee voters and how flex­ible or restrict­ive the docu­ment­ary require­ments are for voters. Any legal inquiry would include a consid­er­a­tion of how expans­ive the lists of accept­able docu­ment­a­tion beyond photo ID are, whether there is a reas­on­able oppor­tun­ity for voters without ID to confirm their iden­tity with a signa­ture match or by execut­ing a declar­a­tion of iden­tity under the penalty of perjury.

Moreover, the cost of public educa­tion and outreach, a neces­sary and crucial compon­ent, is signi­fic­ant. It is costly to ensure that all voters are aware of any new require­ments to vote and have access to the free IDs offered by the state. There is also the cost of the free IDs them­selves. There are many estim­ates of the poten­tial cost to North Caro­lina in impos­ing a strict voter ID require­ment and the total burden on taxpay­ers will, of course, depend upon the final version of any such legis­la­tion, but the signi­fic­ant litig­a­tion, public educa­tion, and mater­ial cost cannot be avoided.

The Bren­nan Center thanks the Commit­tee for this oppor­tun­ity to speak to you today and applauds the effort of this commit­tee to enact changes inten­ded to improve North Caro­lin­a’s elec­tions. However, we urge this body to consider legis­la­tion that modern­izes North Caro­lin­a’s voter regis­tra­tion system rather than to impose a voter ID law that will unfairly and unjus­ti­fi­ably restrict access to the polls and poten­tially leave thou­sands of North Caro­lina citizens disen­fran­chised. The Bren­nan Center has publicly access­ible propos­als for Voter Regis­tra­tion Modern­iz­a­tion and we encour­age members of this Commit­tee to review those options that can reduce elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion costs while improv­ing the qual­ity and secur­ity of North Caro­lin­a’s elec­tions.

Thank you again.