EDITORIAL: Voter bill needs sound reasoning

Mar. 09, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Republican members of the N.C. House of Representatives are setting the stage for the creation of a voter identification bill, and they appear to be going about it in a carefully-prescribed way.

We’re not sure opponents of such a bill would agree, but hey, let’s at least let the GOP make a good-faith attempt.

With a Republican majority in both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly and a Republican governor who supports voter ID legislation, it seems fairly certain that North Carolina will at some point in the near future require voters to present a photo ID at polling places. House Speaker Thom Tillis and several other House members this past week outlined a tentative schedule of committee meetings, a public hearing and a desire to hear “expert testimony” from various sources familiar with the nuances — especially the legal ones — of the divisive issue before crafting a bill. Rep. Tillis has involved the House Elections Committee as well; that group will host additional meetings as part of the exploration process.

The idea of requiring a photo ID in order to vote is one that — like natural gas exploration, climate change, gun control or health care reform — compels people to quickly choose sides, often without much thought. Tell us where you are on one or more of those issues and we (or anyone else) could venture a much-better-than-50 percent guess where you stand on the voter ID question. If you like the idea of giving fracking a serious look and if you think global warming and ObamaCare are a bunch of hooey, then it’s a pretty sure bet you also want would-be voters to bring a picture ID on Election Day, just like the identification they require at the gun shop.

Like most hot-button issues, opinions around the country about voter ID legislation fall strongly along party and ideological lines — which is unfortunate. When our former Governor, Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, vetoed a photo ID bill in 2011, arguments “for” and “against” the legislation were shallow, not compelling, and fear-based rather than fact-based. Already, some people — including North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber — are crying “foul” at this latest effort. Rev. Barber has pledged to do what we’re certain goes without saying — to immediately challenge voter ID legislation in the courts.

Unlike the good reverend, we do have hope that what Rep. Tillis and his compatriots are doing is good-faith because they’ve indicated the approach to writing a bill will be deliberate, and because there seems to be a willingness to spend time listening to the concerns of the NAACP and other opponents of such legislation. According to Rep. Mike Stone of Lee County, the goal of the legislation would be to “protect the integrity of the ballot box.” Another goal would be that the bill “stands up in a court of law.”

The proof of Rep. Tillis’ stated intent will be in the pudding. A sound voter ID bill, which we’d like to see, needs sound reasoning and judgment behind it. Otherwise, let’s not waste time going there.