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Is North Carolina’s Voter ID Law ‘Common Sense’ Policy or Discrimination?

August 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
North Carolina's new voter ID law is the first to be passed since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. Starting in 2016, voters will have to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Judy Woodruff hears debate from Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield and Tom Murry, a Republican state representative.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to a strict new voter I.D. law in North Carolina, which is putting a spotlight on the broader national fight over when and where people can cast ballots.

GOV. PAT MCCRORY, R-N.C.: Protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties I have as governor. And it’s why I signed these commonsense, commonplace protections into law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s first Republican governor in more than two decades, defended the new law last night in a statement posted on YouTube.

Under the statute, voters will have to present a government-issued photo I.D., such as a driver’s license, at the polls. The law also ends same-day voter registration, and it shortens the early voting period by a week.

Republican State Senator Bob Rucho argued the measure will help prevent voter fraud when it takes effect in 2016. He said: “It’s going to have a huge dividend for the state of North Carolina as far as restoring a level of confidence in government by making the electoral process secure.”

Opponents insist the real intent is to suppress turnout among Democratic constituencies, minorities, young voters and the poor. In Raleigh today, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced plans to challenge the law in federal court.

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REV. WILLIAM BARBER, North Carolina NAACP: This bill is not about voter I.D. It is 57 pages of regressive, unconstitutional acts to rig and manipulate elections through voter suppression.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Possible presidential contenders are weighing in as well. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, sharply criticized the law last night in San Francisco.

HILLARY CLINTON, former U.S. Secretary of State: Citizens will be disenfranchised, victimized by the law, instead of served by it. And that progress, that historical progress toward a more perfect union will go backwards, instead of forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, North Carolina is the latest of several states with Republican-controlled legislatures moving to tighten voter rules.

Just today, the American Civil Liberties Union warned Kansas that it must comply with federal voter law or face legal action. And U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signaled last month that the Justice Department will challenge such laws, but that will be far harder now since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in June.

We get two takes now on the voter I.D. law in North Carolina. Republican State Representative Tom Murry is a co-author of the measure, and Democratic U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield is a former North Carolina Supreme Court justice and critic of the new law.

Gentlemen, we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD, R-N.C.: Thank you.

TOM MURRY, R-N.C.: Thanks for having us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Representative Murry, let me start with you.

Why was it necessary to reform the state’s voting law?

TOM MURRY: I think that voter I.D. one of those subjects that is so common sense that it — most people in North Carolina wondered why we didn’t do in the first place.

I’m proud that North Carolina has joined the 34 other states to enact a common sense voter I.D. law that isn’t going to impact a significant amount of North Carolinians. What we identified when we were analyzing this bill is that 97 percent of the people that voted in 2012 had a direct match in the Division of Motor Vehicles database.

And so we’re willing to work over the next few years towards 2016 to make sure that anyone that needs a photo I.D. can get one and we’re willing to give them one for free as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why was it necessary?

TOM MURRY: I think that’s a question that you should ask the public.

The public, if you ask — and that’s what I did. I went door to door in my campaign. We did focus groups and talked to folks. And it’s just one of those commonsense things that voters in North Carolina thought that we already had. I have seen numerous people come to the polls in North Carolina and present their I.D., expecting to be asked for it.

And so it’s just kind of one of those common sense things that make sense to 60 percent to 70 percent of the voters in North Carolina, and so it’s a good commonsense policy for our state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Butterfield, he’s saying it’s just common sense and it’s something most North Carolinians want.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: Well, first, let me thank you for putting the spotlight on this issue in North Carolina.

It’s very shameful that our legislature in North Carolina and the governor have decided to make these radical changes in the election laws. There is no need for a voter I.D. law in North Carolina. We have four million people who vote in every presidential election and less than a dozen reports of voter fraud.

We can see right through this. We know exactly what it is. It’s a political power grab on the part of the Republicans. For years and years, Republicans were shut out of the political process in North Carolina. And so they are determined now to control the legislature. They won the elections in 2010. And Government McCrory was elected in 2012.

And it’s now their determination to hold onto this power that they have acquired. It’s discriminatory. It disenfranchises so many groups of people in our state. It’s going to cost a lot of money to enforce it, and shame on North Carolina for making this happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you, Representative Murry, about several of those points, number one, that it’s a political power grab, that there really are very few examples of voter fraud, and that this is just an overreaction.

TOM MURRY: I don’t think it’s an overreaction.

And what we have seen from other states that are similarly situated to North Carolina — and probably the state to look at the closest that resembles North Carolina is Georgia, where we have seen their voter I.D. law be in place since 2008, and we have seen turnout amongst minorities, including African-Americans and Hispanics, go up since the voter I.D. law went into place.

Another thing about the Georgia experiment that we have seen is over the five years that they have had the law in place, less than — between 30,000 and 40,000 free I.D.s have been issued by the state of Georgia. So the impact hasn’t been that great. That’s less than — that’s around — that’s less than 1 percent of the registered voters in the state of Georgia.

And I think you’re going to see a similar experience here in North Carolina. And so when you’re talking about a commonsense measure like voter I.D. that 60 percent to 70 percent of the voters in North Carolina approve of, I think it’s a step in the right direction to improve the voting process and improve everybody’s sense of integrity and have confidence in the election results.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Butterfield, I think I heard Representative Murry say that in the state of Georgia, when the voter I.D. act was passed, turnout among African-Americans actually increased.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: Well, let me tell you, North Carolina has had a good participation rate over the years.

The former governor and the North Carolina legislature have worked hand in hand to liberalize and to make the ballot box accessible and to minority groups and to women and to students and senior citizens. We have been a model for the nation.

And now to implement a voter I.D. law is going to result in 300,000 people who do not have any form of government-issued identification to be disenfranchised. The legislature says, well, they can get a special I.D. card. Well, many people will not do that. They will choose not to vote, and that’s very sad.

And the state’s even saying now they will pay for a voter I.D. card. And the statistics show it’s going to cost $800,000 to implement a voter I.D. card program. Completely unnecessary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Another aspect of this law, I want to ask you about, Representative Murry, is the fact that it does away with not only — it does away with same-day voter registration, but it also shortens the early voting period by a week. It was 17 days. Now it is 10 days. Why make it harder for people to vote early?

TOM MURRY: Early voting is extremely popular.

And what we have done with this measure is to make sure that the same number of hours of early voting were that were available in 2010 and 2012 are going to be available going forward. And so what we’re doing is actually — it’s broadening the number of locations that people will be able to access early voting, because one way that some enterprising election officials were trying to game the system was to have one location only accessible to a certain voter bloc.

And that cuts across both party lines. And so the best way to stop the gaming of the system is to make sure if you’re going to have multiple early voting locations, you open them up all at the same time, all with the same number of hours. And so it’s going to be more fair for our voters to have multiple locations for early voting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Congressman…

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: You hear what he’s saying.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: That’s nothing but a pretext for voter suppression.

Let me tell you, the early voting days have not been sufficient. The lines have been long. And we actually need more voting dates, not less. And cutting it back to 10 days is nothing but a move to suppress the African-American vote, the youth vote.

TOM MURRY: What we need is more voting locations.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s let him finish.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: And let me tell you, what the representative didn’t say is that they have also eliminated Sunday voting.

And we know that in all of the — particularly all the Southern states, African-Americans vote in higher numbers on Sunday before the election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about his point that they — though, that they are adding more places to vote?

TOM MURRY: That’s right.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: Well, no, they are giving the discretion to add more places. They have not established more early voting sites. It is enabling more voting sites, at the same time reducing it to a 10-day window.

This is not — this is not giving the right to vote. It’s taking away the right to vote. The Republicans have been doing this for a long time. The thing that has stood in their way has been the Voting Rights Act. And on June the 25th, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

And 30 days later, July 35, that’s when the legislature passed these sweeping changes. And now there’s no oversight from the Justice Department. That’s why I’m calling on Attorney General Holder to look at this case very carefully and to consider filing a lawsuit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Representative Murry, just quickly, it is — we know that in voting last year that of the early voting, something like 70 percent of African-Americans took advantage of early voting in the last few elections, larger than the other voters.

So, you can understand why this looks like an effort to cut back on minority voting.

TOM MURRY: What we want is more locations for everyone to vote early, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

And I will issue a challenge to Congressman Butterfield. I would like to join with him to make sure that they’re — if we can identify anyone that need a photo I.D. between now and January 1 of 2016, I hope his congressional office and my legislative office can work together to make sure that anybody that needs an I.D. get one by January 1, 2016.

Will you work with me on that, Congressman?

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: Well, Representative, we’re going to try to get this law overturned.

The Voting Rights Act is still enforceable. We’re going to try to pursue a Section 2 claim under the Voting Rights Act. This is clearly not only a discriminatory impact on minority voters, but it has a discriminatory intent. And we’re not going to just sit by and watch it happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Butterfield, Representative Murry, we thank you both.

TOM MURRY: Thank you.

G.K. BUTTERFIELD: Thank you.