This sounds like a headline from the Jim Crow-era South. Unfortunately, it’s 2013 and true. North Carolina passed a voter ID law that will disproportionately prevent certain groups of blacks and women from voting. Lawmakers intended to solve the problem of voter fraud. But as it turns out, that problem doesn’t really exist.
Though I am a son of the North, I was just starting to feel that my new home in Durham didn’t resemble the discriminatory place I read so much about in History class. But I received my voter registration information in the mail today. Stamped right on the front: IN 2016 A PHOTO ID WILL BE REQUIRED TO VOTE.
I remembered that North Carolina recently passed a new voter ID law. After U.S. Supreme Court struck down section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act earlier this year—which used to prevent some states from enacting discriminatory election laws—the state assembly seized an opportunity.
It turns out to be one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. Maybe I was overstating the issue, though. If fraud decreases, then shouldn’t we consider it successful?
This is precisely Governor Pat McCrory’s argument. After signing the bill, he stated, “Ensuring those casting ballots are who they say they are is fundamental to a fair election.” He also calls the measure a “non-burdensome safeguard.”
The Governor’s statements illuminate two crucial flaws. A study by the Pew Charitable Trust shows there is no real voter fraud problem in North Carolina. And a report by Democracy North Carolina shows—whatever the intentions of lawmakers—that this law will prevent honest people from voting, more than it will prevent dishonest people from committing fraud.
Let’s look at the data. North Carolinians caste 6,947,317 ballots in 2012, including two primaries and the general election. Of these ballots, authorities referred only 121 cases to the district attorney’s office for fraud.
And McCrory’s claim that the law will not burden anyone? That is also untrue. Right now in North Carolina 318,643 registered voters do not have an adequate ID for the 2016 election. Of that number, 34% are black and 64% are women—rates that are higher than the general population.
We can now imagine the consequence of the new law in terms of the 2012 election. We know 121 individuals voted fraudulently, and 318,643 were legally registered, but didn’t have IDs.
If any more than 121 voters do not vote in 2016, because they don’t have the proper ID—pay attention now—the law will have a net negative effect on legitimate votes.
This seems to be Gov. McCrory’s idea of “fundamental to a fair election.”
It seems as though this particular southern state is falling into some old habits. If you know someone without an ID, I suggest you encourage them to get one. Otherwise, there might be a whole lot of attempted voter fraud in 2016.