Just spent an invigorating several hours at the General Assembly’s opening-day events. The big news, other than the fact that new House Speaker Thom Tillis revealed he was beaten by his father with a belt — more on this below — is that the Republicans are planning to move fast on their promise to pass Voter ID legislation.

There’s no stopping it, according to my very knowledgeable, don’t-use-my-name source. The only question is whether the GOP bill will literally require every voter to present a photo ID at the polls? Or, if you don’t have one, will alternative forms of identification — a phone bill, a utility bill — be allowed to demonstrate that you are the person you say you are and live where you say you do.

Republican legislators promised this one to their base as they campaigned for office last fall. The stated fear: Illegal immigrants are somehow registering to vote and voting using phony documents. The actual purpose: Like so many other voter-suppression tactics employed by the GOP over the years, this one is meant to discourage voting by folks who, for reasons of income or circumstance, don’t have a current driver’s license. That would be, as fliers circulated in the legislature today by Democracy NC point out:

* Older people in rest homes;
* Students in college;
* Renters (since they move more frequently);
* Women who’ve recently married and changed their names;
* People with disabilities who don’t drive;
* People with low incomes who don’t drive.

This list skews Democratic, which is why Republicans are pushing it. A requirement that you present a photo ID when voting would affect Republicans and Democrats alike, but the GOP knows that their voters — on average, more affluent and better educated — will deal with it more easily than the other side’s voters.

In Indiana, the Republican legislature enacted a law in 2005 requiring voters to present a valid photo ID at the polls. Under the law, the state was to create a new kind of photo ID for non-drivers. It did, but the IDs weren’t free unless you signed a statement avowing your poverty. And even so, you were required to present a valid birth certificate, and they aren’t free.

Three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter) found, in the case of Crawford v. Marion County (Ind.) Election Board, that the Indiana statute was an unconstitutional burden on the right of every person to vote in federal elections free — under the 24th Amendment — from “any poll tax or other tax.”

Unfortunately, the five conservative justices (Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy) plus Justice Stevens on a bad day, voted to uphold the law.

Thus, there will be no LEGAL argument to be made if the Republicans in our legislature decide to go whole-hog for a photo ID-only law, i.e., an all-out voter-suppression law. And from what I was told, Gov. Perdue may not threaten to veto a photo ID-only law because it polls so well.

Never mind that, as Democracy NC points out, the likely Republican bill will exempt absentee ballots, which data show are more likely to be cast by registered Republicans. (And how would you enforce a Photo ID requirement for absentee ballots anyway?) Never mind that “[P]eople of color students, the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income citizens are less likely to have a driver’s license…. The time and money used to get a photo ID is like a poll tax, a barrier long used to deny African-Americans the vote.

“The photo ID is a biased, modern-day power grab,” Democracy NC says.

The one argument that could slow this speeding bullet down, however, is money. There is no machinery in place now to produce valid photo IDs for non-motorists. Establishing one — in enough places, moreover, that the Republicans can at least keep a straight face when arguing that the law isn’t meant to disenfranchise anybody — will be costly.

The alternative would be to allow non-photo IDs of the sort that many non-drivers, though not all, would have. But even if utility bills are permitted, for example, that won’t help people in rest homes, student or renters who don’t pay their own utilities. How about a mail-in application for them, with their receipt of a mailed form sufficient proof of address?

This debate, I was told, begins tomorrow.


And it will move fast, according to Tillis, who said in his acceptance speech after winning the Speaker’s post today that the GOP will set a rapid pace and aim to finish the ’11 session by June 4. That would be fast.

Tillis brought his own, hand-crafted gavel, which he named “Ray” after a man who embodied all that was great in America, he said. That would be his father, Thomas Raymond Tillis, who was a faithful husband to his death, Thom Tillis said, and wasn’t afraid to reach his belt to instill discipline in his children. Slamming it down with a zingy thud, Tillis added, “Don’t make Ray mad.” (It was a joke, I guess.)