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Voter ID, straight-ticket ballot bills filed
N.C. legislation could impact election access
 
Published Monday, March 11, 2013 11:53 am
by Herbert L. White

N.C. lawmakers are scrambling to sponsor bills that would impact voter identification and straight party balloting.


State Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat, introduced legislation last week that would ensure registered voters can cast a ballot even if they lack identification. Ford’s bill, SB 235, would allow voters to present identification at a polling place or have their photo taken on site before casting a ballot. Ford, a freshman lawmaker, is pitching the legislation as an alternative to Republican-backed bills that would require ID in advance of voting.

Democrats and progressive-leaning activists have complained that stringent voter ID laws unfairly disenfranchise the young, elderly and racial minorities – core voters in the Democratic camp. Military personnel and absentee voters – who historically vote Republican – wouldn’t be required to present identification.


“The Voter Protection and Integrity Act is a cost-effective, common-sense solution to the voter ID debate,” Ford said in a statement. “It ensures that every vote counts and protects the integrity of the voting process.”


Voter ID has been a political flashpoint since Republicans gained control of the General Assembly in 2011. A Republican-sponsored bill that was sent to then-Gov. Bev Perdue – a Democrat – that year was vetoed. Conservative lawmakers have signaled their intention to pass another bill, but some have shown a willingness to find middle ground to ensure access at the polls.


Two bills – HB 185 and SB 82 – would eliminate straight-party voting while SB 82 would list candidates by party in alphabetical order starting with the governor's party.


Jordon Greene, founder and president of Free the Vote North Carolina, says dropping party labels as well as straight-ticket voting will open the ballot for alternative candidates. The group backs SB82, which is sponsored by Republicans Buck Newton and Thom Goolsby eliminates straight tickets and party labels. It opposes HB 185 on the grounds that dropping straight-party ballots doesn’t go far enough.


“The straight-party voting system tends to perpetuate this cycle of individuals going to the polls and casting votes based simply on party label in the hopes of voting for someone that shares their common values,” he said.


…“Straight-party voting encourages uneducated voting and demeans the value of the individual's vote. The manner in which the device is used in North Carolina also is confusing to voters, since it doesn't apply to the presidential race. Of course, we don't think if we end straight-party voting everyone will necessarily educate themselves more, but that people will be more likely to do so.”


Goolsby wrote in an email to supporters: “Straight ticket voting is the poster child for voter laziness and apathy. It causes political parties to push the party label and buzzwords, instead of individual candidates and their strengths. For far too long, North Carolina has been a state where unknown candidates, with or without any talent, have attempted to ride the coattails of their party to success.”


Democrats object to the elimination of straight-party voting, where 56 percent of straight ticket votes cast in North Carolina in 2012 went to Democratic candidates compared to 43 percent of Republicans.


“Democrat opposition to the bill is simple to understand — straight ticket voting works for them,” Goolsby wrote. “However, their arguments for keeping straight ticket voting are lame. They attempt to argue that Republicans are trying to diminish Democrat turnout and Democrat votes. They even complain that voters will find it more difficult to select candidates.


“The Democrats dance around the fact that party labels are not removed from the ballot. In other words, any voter can continue to vote by party, it will just take a little more time to do so.  And there’s the rub — maybe, just maybe, the voter might consider other candidates beyond the ‘D.'”

Note: The article reflects a correction in that SB 82 proposes candidates be listed by party in alphabetical order.

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