On Tuesday, when I was still in Raleigh, I sat in for the comment period on the North Carolina legislature’s new voter ID bill. The hearing had been moved to a large, anonymously appointed white room with plenty of seating for the people giving public statements on the bill. But they didn’t have a lot of time, or much hope of convincing the Republican majority. Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Wake County, started the debate by asking Republicans to consider how many people really did lack IDs but had the right to vote.
“The fact is that we have IDs. We have banking accounts,” said Stein. “There’s more than half a million adult North Carolinians who don’t have banking accounts. They don’t have checks. Therefore there are more than 300,000 registered voters who don’t have a driver’s license.” When a Republican suggested that voter fraud occured but was hidden, Stein called a bluff. “You said they’re never reported. I think there’s a reason they’re never reported. They’re myths.”
It came time for community input. The rows facing the Senate were full of activists, some of them wearing “No Voter ID” stickers. “What a farce, introducing this bill at this late date, that does this much damage,” said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the first speaker.* “This bill is voter suppression at its very worst. You’re making North Carolina a national laughingstock … this bill steals from North Carolinians opportunities to vote that you are disproportionately used by people of color and lower-income people.”
The lineup was around half activists and half just plain irritated people. Brian Schneidowin showed up in shorts and snearkers, idly tossing contempt at the Senate. “For the last nine years, I’ve been a government teacher, and I’d like to you thank you for passing that bill a few hours ago that’s going to make us work a lot harder.” When senators seemed to turn away from him, he chided them for not paying attention. But most of the speakers went for the soft sell. “Voter ID requirements say everyone is guilty unless they can prove they are innocent,” said a retiree, Vicky Boyd.
The comments were largely pointless. In less than an hour, the committee gaveled through the bill on a voice vote. On Thursday the whole Senate passed the bill, and today Gov. Patrick McCrory said he’d sign it. He’d sign the new abortion restriction bill, too, because the Senate had rushed through a new version of it after he declined to back the old one.
*Correction, July 29, 2013: This post originally misspelled Allison Riggs’ name.