Southern Politics

Last year, North Carolina was one of several states where Republican state leaders aggressively pushed — and passed — a voter ID law. But the move prompted a backlash from civil rights and election watchdog groups, resulting in a veto by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Ever since, Republicans have been threatening to override the veto. In fact, fear of a vote that could push through the voter ID bill — maybe even during a surprise vote, like one held at midnight in January targeting teachers’ unions — was one of the reasons behind a 70-strong rally at the legislature last week led by Democracy North Carolina and other groups. (Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis had even suggested last year that waiting for a session when Democrats failed to show up would be “the easy way to override” Perdue’s veto.)

So what’s the future for voter ID in North Carolina?

At the February 16 rally in Raleigh, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) — who apparently had the peaceful demonstrators removed from the legislative building — told a documentary crew monitoring the event that he “did not anticipate” bringing up voter ID in the General Assembly’s 2012 sessions.

Rep. Tillis further suggested that if there was a vote, it would be over a watered-down “compromise” bill that would allow voters to bring other forms of non-photo ID to the polls.*

But while Rep. Tillis was backpedaling from the voter ID cause, fellow Republican and former House Speaker Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam was sending a different signal. This week, Rep. Stam sent an email inviting supporters to a fundraising reception with prices ranging from $30 to $1,000 a person.

The theme? “Do you want to know the future of voter ID in North Carolina?”

In contrast to Rep. Tillis’ caution, Rep. Stam had stated last week that when Republican Rep. Ric Killian of Charlotte returns from Army reserve duty in Afghanistan, the GOP would have the votes to override Perdue’s voter ID veto.

Even if state Republicans are able to muster the votes needed to override the governor’s veto — and they’ll need several Democrats to go along to succeed — voter ID would still face another obstacle: a newly-emboldened Department of Justice, which has successfully tied up a similar measure in South Carolina on the grounds that it may unfairly impact African-American and Latino voters.

* Here’s the quote from Rep. Thom Tillis on Feb. 16 at the General Assembly, as captured by a video team on the scene:

“I don’t anticipate bringing up for override the current Voter ID Bill, because it’s really split along party lines. But we are talking about something similar to the compromise bill that we considered in committee that had to have the documents not requiring the picture ID, if we think we could get consensus. But we’re going to have a very short session, so it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to take up any truly controversial bills. We’re going to be out of here by fourth of July, so that more or less limits the scope of what we could take up.”

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Chris Kromm

Chris Kromm

I am executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, a non-profit media, research and policy center based in Durham, North Carolina. I'm also publisher and contributor to the Institute's publications Facing South online and Southern Exposure magazine, winner of the National Magazine Award, two George Polk Awards, and other honors. I have appeared on over 300 TV and radio broadcasts for commentary on Southern politics and current issues, including American Public Media's "Marketplace," CNN "Live," C-SPAN, Democracy Now, GRITtv, KPOJ Portland, Minnesota Public Radio, Mississippi Public Radio, NPR's "All Things Considered," Public Radio International's "To the Point," WAOK Atlanta, WBAI New York, WRAL TV North Carolina, WRNO New Orleans, WUNC North Carolina's "The State of Things" and XM Satellite Radio. I contribute regularly to The Huffington Post, and my reporting and writing have also been published in The Durham Herald-Sun, The Hill, The Independent Weekly, The Nation, The Raleigh News & Observer, Salon and other publications. My work focuses on leading high-impact projects that link media, research, policy and community participation strategies to promote equity, democracy and sustainability.