The voter ID debate renewed

By Scott Mooneyham | Mar 15, 2013

RALEIGH — For better than two decades now, Bob Hall has been railing against the corrosive influence of money in politics.

Hall heads Democracy North Carolina, an organization most often referred to in the media as a "campaign watchdog group."

The Durham-based organization is certainly of the liberal variety, having grown out of the liberal Institute of Southern Studies, established in the early 1970s by veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, including Julian Bond.

The Republicans who now control the levers of power in state government are not unaware of the connection or the group's political leanings.

Still, Hall has been an equal opportunity afflicter of the powerful. He and Democracy North Carolina brought the elections complaint that eventually derailed Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, issued reports that examined Black's reliance on donations from the shady video poker industry, and filed the complaint that led to findings of wrongdoing by former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and his campaign.

So it should have come as no surprise when Hall, on a panel that included national elections experts from the left and right, nailed the really pertinent questions about voter photo identification.

The panel was brought to Raleigh by leaders of the state House as legislators again consider having North Carolina join the states that require a photo ID in order to vote.

Over the last two years — with legislators passing and former Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoing a photo ID requirement — the arguments for and against the requirement have become well known.

Supporters argue that requiring voters to produce photo ID will stop voter fraud and improve public confidence in the voting system; opponents say it will disenfranchise some segment of poor voters who do not have IDs, even as there is little evidence of voter fraud associated with voter impersonation.

Hall, an opponent of a photo ID requirement, went well beyond the rote arguments against. He had some uncomfortable questions for state lawmakers.

If there is a problem with voter fraud involving voter impersonation, why not prove it? It would be easy enough, he argued, to conduct a study examining a sample of voters who had signed poll books indicating that they had voted in the past election, contact those voters at their registered addresses, and see whether any had not actually voted.

Those poll books, where each person who votes must match their names against a registered voter, are a current check against voter fraud. Why not use them, Hall asked.

His other point was more uncomfortable. Hall noted that 2,500 voters in North Carolina, in the last election, had their votes tossed out because they were given the wrong ballot. Those mistakes were made, in large part, because of unprecedented precinct splitting in the most recent state redistricting plan, a plan put together by some of the same legislators in the room.

"Voter fraud could be telling people in 2012 that you can't vote," Hall said. "What exactly is fraud?"

Perhaps it is just one of those things that you will know it when you see it, even if you never do.