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Why the state GOP's voter ID bill is a costly and unnecessary misstep 

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The biggest expense of a voter ID program is for an education and publicity campaign to inform voters of the new requirements, and thus avoid widespread confusion on Election Day and keep legitimately registered voters from being turned away at the polls. Missouri estimated it would need $16.9 million for an effective outreach to its voters.

The proposed N.C. bill allocates $600,000 for the whole shebang — new cards, equipment and training, and an education and publicity effort. Where is the $600,000 coming from? Part of it will be shifted from money allocated to provide assistance to voters with disabilities, and from unspent funds in the N.C. Voter-Owned Elections Fund, which helps grassroots campaigns and reduces the role of regulated industries in elections.

Bob Hall, the respected head of Democracy North Carolina, has been around elections and election funding issues for decades. Democracy North Carolina is the nonpartisan group that investigated and called out Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker's money laundering, Democratic House Speaker Jim Black's illegal fundraising, and the Democratic Party's bogus campaign account for former Gov. Mike Easley. Hall told the House Elections Committee last week that the $600,000 figure is "absurdly low" and "[an] indication of what a sham this bill is."

Rep. Killian disagrees, saying $600,000 will be enough to implement voter ID and that the figure is based on the costs of Georgia's voter ID law. "I'm a fiscal conservative, and I had concerns about costs," said Killian, "but the Georgia law convinced me in the end that the costs were not going to be as significant as some people might seem to want it to be."

Chris Kromm, executive director of the ISS, however, points out that Georgia's voter ID bill anticipated that "it will cost that state's taxpayers over $2 million in 2011 alone, and that's leaving out over 17 major implementation expenses that are being shuffled off to local election officials." One result of N.C. Republicans low-balling the funding is that county boards of election will probably be saddled with the rest of the bill.

Another major drawback of the bill is that the law likely could be ruled discriminatory in a couple of different ways. First, a number of studies, including a recent one by Democracy North Carolina, show that students, the elderly, people of color, people with disabilities and the poor are less likely to have a driver's license — and would generally have a harder time traveling somewhere to get one. That, frankly, is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Critics also note that the voter ID law would not apply to absentee voters, and in fact would make it easier to get an absentee ballot. This is a problem because, as Bob Hall told the Elections Committee last week, "... here's the truth: The rate of somebody impersonating someone else is 10 times higher for people voting with absentee ballots than those who vote in person." Voter ID opponents say it's no coincidence that most absentee ballots in North Carolina favor Republicans, who are the ones proposing the bill.

Why now?

One critical question remaining unanswered about a voter ID program in North Carolina is "Why now?" Why, when the state budget is being severely slashed, would the GOP want to crank up a new program, no matter how under-funded? Why would Republicans act on such a divisive issue, when the hard evidence overwhelmingly shows that voter fraud in N.C. doesn't even rise to the level of "insignificant"?

As state Democratic Party vice chair Doug Wilson told us, the Democratic establishment thinks Republicans are out to suppress the number of voters by singling out likely Democratic voters. He points out the well-known fact that a lower voter turnout generally favors the GOP.

Wilson and the Democrats may be correct, but here is another idea: fear of the Tea Parties. It's no secret that the GOP owes its legislative majority, here and in other states, to large turnouts in 2010 by far-right voters who favor Tea Party ideas. One of those ideas is the suspicion, or rather the dark fantasy, that President Obama was only elected through massive voter fraud. Such fevered dreams increasingly drive our politics these days, and all the voter ID commotion is just the latest example.

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