In a split vote along party lines, the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of supporting a state law that would require voters show a photo ID before casting their ballot.
Today, voters do not have to show a photo ID prior to voting, but House Bill 351 would require voters to show a driver’s license or another state-provided ID. While the law’s stated intent is to prevent voter fraud, opponents of the law say that it would disenfranchise poor, young or elderly voters and those with disabilities who don’t have the means to obtain an ID.
Read the full bill below.
Republicans Paul Coble, Tony Gurly, Phil Matthews and Joe Bryan voted in favor of the resolution while Democrats Erv Portman, Betty Lou Ward and James West voted against it.
The resolution is the third controversial issue brought to the table for support by Coble, who chairs the board and is running for a congressional seat in the 13th district.
Gurly said he strongly supported the bill because he believes voter fraud is a major problem in North Carolina and is the reason why Democrats held power during much of the state’s recent history.
“People who are benefiting from the fraud are opposing the change,” he said.
Portman called Gurly’s accusation “toxic politics” and scolded Coble for bringing divisive issues to the table for the sole purpose of supporting his campaign.
More than 10 people spoke in opposition to the resolution during the public hearing.
“This bill will be a barrier to the democratic process,” said Kathy Boos, a preschool teacher.
She said she recently helped one of her low-income clients try to obtain an ID and called it a long and expensive process, requiring trips to two DMV offices, followed by a two-hour wait.
Boos said that people with no transportation, money and an inflexible work schedule may not have the ability to obtain an ID.
According to the bill, those that don’t have a state-provided ID would be able to get a free voter ID card through the State Board of Elections.
The cost to run and administer such a program has not been determined.
Coble said that because of this provision, convenience is a non-issue.
He also said that people who are provided social services already need a photo ID to get those services.
Damon Circosta, director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, suggested adopting a resolution that would make it easier for people to vote. He added that state legislators have yet to allocate $700,000 that would unlock $4 million in Help America Vote Act funds that could be used to make elections more secure without enacting voter ID laws.
Opponents of the law say there is no documented evidence that there is a problem with voter fraud in North Carolina and that there are already voter laws on the books.
Earl Johnson a pastor at Martin Street Baptist Church, called the ID law a 21st century poll tax.
“The extremely low rates [of voter fraud] in North Carolina make it clear that these laws are very, very effective,” Johnson said.
Voters who don’t have a photo ID on Election Day would still be able to cast a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot would be counted as long as they later go the Board of Elections to show a photo ID and sign an affidavit.
Gurly said the bill isn’t perfect because it doesn’t address the issue of voter fraud through absentee ballots.
Health and Human Services Programs Reduced
Budget constraints forced the Health and Human Service department staff to cut two programs and reduce services in another.
HHS staff told commissioners the Therapeutic Placement Program has been running in the red for the past two years. The program provides residential treatment services for children with mental health issues.
Staff members decided that rather than provide the services directly, children would be referred to private organizations that do the same kind of work. All the children within the program have already been placed in these private organizations.
While three full-time positions were lost, the employees that filled these positions were placed in other areas.
In addition, a federally funded grant to develop strategies to counteract gangs has ended, therefore cutting the program it supported.
The county lost about $205,000 in funding to administer child care service subsidies. The money for the administration is provided to the county by the state, which reduced its funding.
The county was also forced to cut four full-time positions, but those employees were placed in other departments.
Speakers Oppose Feral Cat Program
A possible change to how the county deals with feral cats received some opposition during Monday’s public comment period.
About five people, all with a biological or environmental science background, spoke against allowing private groups to trap, spay or neuter and then return feral cats to the place that they were captured.
Feral cats are picked up by animal control officers and brought to the Wake County Animal Shelter. They are put on a three-day hold and then euthanized. The three-day hold provides time for owners to pick up a lost pet that was mistaken for a feral. Commissioners listened to arguments in favor of a trap-neuter-release program at their last meeting, but a final ordinance change has not been presented to the board.
The speakers said that feral cats are not native species and that they are detrimental to ecosystems. They added that feral cats are a public health threat because they carry diseases like rabies.
County Receives Funds for Family Planning Services
The Wake County Human Services Family Planning Clinic was awarded $25,000 in federal funding to purchase contraceptive medications and devices. The funding would supplement the current allocation of $334,000.
According to county documents, the clinic serves 9,400 under-insured or uninsured women annually.
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Read the Voter ID Bill