RALEIGH, N.C. — The president of the North Carolina NAACP on Thursday compared Republican attempts to require photo identification to vote to a poll tax, and said he and his allies will fight it at the General Assembly and in court if it’s approved.
The Rev. William Barber with the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People spoke at a news conference in which he called voter ID efforts part of a multi-pronged attack nationally by the far right to erode hard-fought voting rights.
Standing next to a Washington-based civil rights attorney, Barber said he’ll offer no compromise on protecting the constitutional right to vote, even though Republicans hold majorities in the General Assembly and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory also supports voter ID legislation. Then-Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed a photo ID bill in 2011.
“If the state enacts restrictive rules and policies, we will fight them,” said Penda Hair, co-director or the Washington-based Advancement Project, which has challenged voter ID laws in other states. “We will fight them in the courts. We will fight them in the streets. Voters will fight them by coming out and voting and overcoming.”
House GOP leaders announced earlier this week the procedure they will use to craft a bill with a photo ID requirement by next month and asked opponents to offer suggestions.
Barber calls that request window-dressing because Republicans have already decided a photo ID will be passed but said he’s asked for up to 45 minutes before the House Elections Committee. The panel will hold a public hearing next Tuesday.
A bill will be filed in about three weeks. Republicans say they want it to offer free IDs to people who don’t have them. It’s unclear how many North Carolina residents lack photo identification.
Counties in many Southern states required a poll tax as a qualification to vote, which in turn discouraged black citizens from coming to the polls. The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited poll taxes in federal elections. Barber said free IDs would still have the same effect as a poll tax because the state would be spending tax dollars and people seeking IDs would be inconvenienced and possibly charged for getting other proof of identity, such as a birth certificate.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who is shepherding voter ID legislation through the House, said he wants the bill to have an aggressive outreach effort to help people get the documents they need to obtain IDs. Otherwise, he said, Barber’s comments Thursday are “just political rhetoric designed to scare folks.”
It is “either presumptuous or under-informed to call this deliberative process that we’re going through window dressing,” Lewis said in an interview.
Voter ID proponents said the measure will improve confidence in the electoral process and discourage fraud. Opponents say fraud is not a widespread problem.
“The claim of fraud is fraudulent,” Barber said Thursday, the 48th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” beating of voting rights marchers by Alabama state troopers.
Voter fraud is already a felony in North Carolina. The State Board of Elections referred 43 cases of potential fraud to district attorneys in 2008 and 21 in 2010, according to board data. State elections director Gary Bartlett said Wednesday that the number of cases in 2012 was still being tallied.
Some House and Senate Democrats have introduced bills this week that would seem to offer a compromise. The legislation would require a voter to show one of several forms of photo ID or a voter registration card or to have photo taken at the precinct and sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.
Any voter ID law also would have to be cleared by U.S. Justice Department attorneys reviewing changes under the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has heard a case on whether to strike down that requirement.