Voter ID bill raises controversy in North Carolina

Seventy-eight-year-old Alberta Currie of North Carolina doesn't have a state photo ID. She said she voted in every presidential election since 1956. But like many of her generation, Currie was born at home and has no birth certificate.
CBS News

(CBS News) RALEIGH, N.C. -- Molly McDonough was among the hundreds of North Carolinians jailed this year for demonstrating inside the statehouse against legislation she fears may prevent her from voting.

"Voting is a right, and these laws are encroaching on that right," said McDonough in an interview on the N.C. State campus where she'll begin her sophomore year this fall.

McDonough, 18, doesn't have a driver's license or a passport, and her college ID won't be accepted under the voting reform bill passed Thursday along party lines by both houses of the Republican-majority state legislature.

McDonough says obtaining documents required to get a state-issued photo ID -- birth certificate, Social Security card, university transcript -- and missing hours at her bookstore job to wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles is unfairly expensive, she figures, about $120 in all.

"That on a minimum wage takes a lot of time to make back up," McDonough says. "I think requiring people to go and spend this much money in order to vote is a poll tax."

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Beginning in 2016, North Carolina polling places will accept only a North Carolina driver's license, a state-issued ID card, a military ID, or a U.S. passport. An out-of-state driver's license will work only if a voter moves into North Carolina within 60 days of an election. An old license possessed by an elderly voter will suffice only if a voter was already 70-years-old when the ID expired.

"It is important for us to listen to what the people want us to do," State Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger told colleagues before the final floor vote. Berger said 70 percent of their constituents support the concept of photo ID.

"Why shouldn't you have to show a photograph to do what is in a democratic election and a democratic process one of the most important things, and that is casting a vote," Berger said in an interview in his office.

He did not dispute State Board of Elections data showing voter fraud to be scarce among the state's 6.4 million registered voters. Only one documented case of voter impersonation fraud was referred to state prosecutors in 2012, and that was eight years after the single previous instance in the past decade.

"The important thing is enhancing confidence in elections," Berger said. "This is something that is about making sure that when people show up to vote, they are who they say they are."

But the North Carolina bill, entitled the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA), goes much further. It rolls back the increasingly popular early voting period from 17 days to 10 days, even though 61 percent of ballots in 2012 were cast before election day. The bill outlaws early voting on Sunday, which is particularly popular with predominantly black churches bussing "souls to the polls."

In 2012 in North Carolina, Democrats cast 47 percent of the early votes, and Republicans cast 32 percent, according to a CBS News analysis.

The North Carolina bill repeals same-day registration, which allowed 100,000 North Carolinians to register and vote early in one stop in 2008 and again in 2012. In last year's general election, about 1,300 of those same day registrants, or one-and-a-half percent, could not be verified after the votes were counted, according to the State Board of Elections.

The bill also repeals pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds who would become eligible to vote at 18. The bill also banned straight ticket voting, whereby a voter chooses a single political party for every office on the ballot.

Seventy-eight-year-old Alberta Currie of North Carolina doesn't have a state photo ID. She said she voted in every presidential election since 1956. But like many of her generation, Currie was born at home and has no birth certificate. CBS News

In North Carolina, about 319,000 voters, or five percent of those registered, do not possess a driver's license or state ID card, and while African-Americans comprise 23 percent of voters, they're 34 percent of those lacking an ID, according to the State Board of Elections.

Seventy-eight-year-old Alberta Currie, a great-granddaughter of slaves, from rural North Carolina, is one of them. Her last driver's license expired when she was 69.

"It make me feel bad, because I want to vote," Currie said. "My grandmother, she insisted, never, never miss a voting day."

Currie has voted in every presidential election since 1956. Born at home to a midwife in the segregated South, her birth was documented only in a family bible. She never had a birth certificate and has been unable to obtain one in recent months.

"I won't have no rights if I can't vote," she said.

  • Michelle Miller
    Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is the co-host of "CBS This Morning: Saturday." As an award-winning correspondent based in New York, she has reported for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. She joined CBS News in 2004.