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Wednesday, 22 June 2011 13:12

Voter ID bill is needed

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“The American people are losing confidence in the system and they want electoral reform ....”

What American political leader, a veteran of high office, made this statement then put his name in support of voter photo ID. Was it Ronald Reagan? Newt Gingrich? Dick Cheney?

Guess again. It was Jimmy Carter.

In September 2005 the former President joined with colleagues on the Federal Election Reform Commission to endorse voter photo IDs. The commission, organized by American University’s Center for Democracy and Election Management, had 87 recommendations, and highlighted photo voter IDs in announcing its presentation to President Bush and Congress.

The bi-partisan, 21-member commission, commonly referred to as “Carter-Baker,” was co-chaired by Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker.

Support for photo ID at the polls has also come from the federal judiciary. In April, 2008 Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal, wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding Indiana’s requirement of government-issued voter photo ID (Crawford vs. Marion County). The opinion recognizes the necessity and prudence of such legislation to guard against election fraud, which could affect the outcome of an election.

Stevens’ decision cited examples of fraud including the 2004 Washington State gubernatorial race where one person voted 19 times using the names of dead people.

Additional evidence of voting fraud in American elections is abundant. A leading source is Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, by John Fund, a veteran investigative reporter with the Wall Street Journal. Fund’s book examines the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial race; the 2000 general election in Missouri when 56,000 St. Louis area voters held multiple voter registrations and more than 100 felons voted illegally; and misconduct in Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and other states.  

My point? The issue of voter photo ID is not a partisan issue, and it should not be conceived as a conservative or liberal matter — though it has been depicted as both by its critics in North Carolina. The issue is trust and confidence in the American political system. The legitimacy of the political system flows from the electoral process. When Americans lose trust in the electoral process they lose faith in the entire political system. This was President Carter’s point.

To advocate the photo ID requirement for voters in no ways casts aspersions on election officials. In North Carolina’s case, it recognizes that our way of life has changed. We live among strangers, and this is why photo IDs are required to cash a check, board an airplane, and enter many federal buildings. Does not the integrity of our political system deserve such protection also?

Opinion polls by Rasmussen and the Civitas Institute in Raleigh demonstrate a majority of Americans and North Carolinians say yes; and 12 states, including our neighbors Tennessee, Georgia, and South Carolina, require voter photo ID.

So why the opposition? Some say the legislation is a solution in search of a problem: there is no demonstrable fraud and estimated costs, borne by the state, could exceed $2 million. This criticism falls short.

Voter photo ID laws are intended to prevent fraud. Prevention is basically easier than detection and the legal challenges it brings (I have never lost a home to fire, but I still carry fire insurance). North Carolina officials allocate funds exceeding tens of billions of dollars. The cost of protecting the peoples’ voice through elections is small by comparison.

Liberal members on the Carter-Baker Commission expressed dissenting views that photo ID could deter minorities from voting. Similar views were reported last week in The Charlotte Observer by Jim Morrill: “Critics, including the AARP, say the ID requirement would lower turnout among seniors, students and African-Americans. There are about 460,000 active N.C. voters who don’t have a driver’s license ….  A disproportionate number are black voters, who tend to vote Democratic.”

Morrill quoted Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, whose district includes most of Haywood County: “The name of this bill should be the “Voter Suppression Bill.”

North Carolina Republicans have repeatedly rejected this charge, and have countered, as Morrill reported, that when Georgia adopted a photo ID law in 2006, minority voting saw an upsurge two years later.

So what should Gov. Perdue do? Listen to Jimmy Carter and John Paul Stevens and do the right thing — support voter photo ID and make it the law in North Carolina!

(Kirkwood Callahan is retired and lives in Waynesville. He has taught American government at four southern universities. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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