It seems that Republicans in the General Assembly have finally gotten around to talking about jobs after weeks of debate about everything else, denying federal loans to community college students, denying health care to thousands of people who are uninsured, repealing annexations, and rolling back consumer and environmental protections.
The breakthrough came Wednesday afternoon in the House Elections Committee when Republicans unveiled the latest version of legislation that is designed to protect a few jobs—their own. That’s the only plausible explanation of the Voter ID bill in the form that passed the committee on party-line vote, that it is all about electing Republicans.
The other reasons to impose another barrier to voting simply don’t make sense. Supporters claim it will reduce voter fraud, but an official with the State Board of Elections told the committee Wednesday that there were 14 possible cases of double voting out of 2.7 million votes cast in the 2010 election.
And some of them might have been seniors who hadn’t realized they had already cast a ballot at an early voting site.
The bill’s supporters used to claim that dead people voted in Washington County, but that turned out to be a clerical error not fraud and the votes weren’t cast anyway. Then they claimed hundreds of noncitizens had illegally cast ballots, but that too turned out to be false.
Rep. Rick Killian claimed during the committee meeting that 229 felons had voted illegally in the last election. That too is vastly overstated and requiring a photo ID wouldn’t solve that problem anyway if the felons were still somehow listed on the rolls as an eligible voter.
The justification most often cited for making it more difficult for people to vote is that the legislation would restore public confidence in the electoral process.
People don’t believe there is widespread voter fraud. Their frustration and cynicism with elections comes from the fact that wealthy special interests dominate the electoral process, paying for misleading ads and anonymously funding shady out-of-state and unaccountable political groups that help decide who represents people in North Carolina.
What is true is that several hundred thousand eligible voters do not currently have a government issued photo ID and most of them are seniors, people with disabilities or people with lower incomes, all of whom are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans.
What better way to help stay in office than make it less likely that people who support your opponent will be able to vote? Opponents of what really should be called the voter suppression act pointed out that it does nothing to affect absentee ballots, where fraud is more likely. But people who vote absentee are not as likely to support Democrats.
House leaders did spend some time negotiating behind the scenes with Democrats and public interest groups over a more reasonable approach adopted by many states that would allow voters to present other forms of identification at the polls like a bank statement or utility bill.
That alarmed many Republicans and the negotiations broke down as GOP leaders ultimately decided that it was better to appease their right-wing base and suppress the voters of thousands of seniors and people with a disability than keep trying to work out a reasonable compromise.
The voter suppression act passed the committee on a strictly party-line vote and you can bet it will be a strict party line vote on the House floor too.
The GOP leadership is enforcing strict party discipline on this one because it is primarily a partisan bill, designed to protect Republicans currently in office and to elect more in the future.
It’s a jobs bill after all.