My friend J and I have taken to haunting the halls of the N.C. General Assembly the past few weeks, dropping off notes and letters and talking with lawmakers regarding various bills that have been submitted to the N.C. House and Senate. Almost 2,000 bill have been submitted in the past 12 weeks, so lawmakers and N.C. voters have been scurrying to keep up with the onslaught of odious bills to restrict voting, restrict healthcare, restrict public education, restrict minority outreach, restrict public access to government goings-on ...
Well, you see the pattern here.
With all these restrictions, you'd think the Tar Heel State is moving toward smaller government, right? Not so. Not so. In fact, the state's Republican supermajority has been working at a feverish pace to expand state government authority and responsibilities.
Take, for instance, the Voter Information Verification Advisory (VIVA) bill. Is this bill addressing a need that hits taxpayers in the pocketbook? No. Is it a bill that addresses a wrong that needs to be righted? No. Is it a short-term cost to benefit the state in the longterm? No, not that, either.
It is, as titled, "an act to restore confidence in government" that will "promote the electoral process through education and increased registration."
And it's Republican pork that will add a new bureaucracy to implement and oversee voter ID cards without addressing actual instances of voter fraud that occur with absentee balloting, and that will cost a minimum of $3.6 million (not including infrastructure, office overhead, other expenditures for the new department/division).
Rep. David Lewis (R-District 53, Harnett County) isn't a sponsor of the bill, but he's taken on the lead to take the bill from the N.C. House through its various hearings and committees. He has hosted two public hearings (so far) on VIVA, both highly contentious hearings that were seeded with people from the so-called Voter Integrity Project, a for-profit business in North Carolina that claims it has been called to protect the U.S. Constitution. The Voter Integrity Project actually bused in people from various rural counties in North Carolina and provided them with fictitious individual claims of voter fraud that "they themselves witnessed."
People came to the microphone one after another and read their notes about serving as a poll watcher in November 2012 and seeing such egregious voter fraud as having one woman come into the polling place with 11 slips of paper, each carrying the name of a different registered voter, and then pick up 11 ballots and cast them all. When asked why they didn't refuse to give the woman 11 ballots or why they didn't report the situation to election officials, they claimed that they had no confidence in the election process and figured it would all just be covered up, so why bother?
Well, as one fictitious North Carolinian was famously known to say, "Suh-PRAHZ, suh-PRAHZ, suh-PRAHZ!" It turns out that the Voter Integrity Project wasn't displaying much integrity in its effort to protect the U.S. Constitution:
Statement on possible errorsIn other words, as they stated at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon after the second of two voter ID hearings wrapped up, they made it all up.
April 12, 2013
RALEIGH, NC–4:55 PM, Friday, April 12, 2013. Late this afternoon, we learned that some of our findings, revealed at the April 10 public Legislative hearing, may be inaccurate; so we plan to issue a full report after completing an audit. While we regret this human error and apologize for any embarrassment it may have caused to the presenters and to election officials, we caution the public against losing sight of the undeniable fact that North Carolina’s voter rolls are so corrupted that, without an effective voter ID law, it will be impossible to know who is really voting. Keeping that in mind, we look forward to constructive engagement with any stakeholders who support open and honest elections in our state.
Jay DeLancy, Executive Director
Voter Integrity Project of NC
Rep. Lewis congenially insists that VIVA isn't based on needs presented by the Voter Integrity Project, but if the needs are not coming from the Voter Integrity Project and other speakers at the hearings were opposed to VIVA on grounds that it's discriminatory and places too great a burden (aka "poll tax") on voters, then what's the basis for the need for a voter ID at all?
Rep. Lewis isn't quite sure. But what he is sure of is that we need it. Desperately. So desperately, in fact, that the GOP supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly plans to ramrod the bill through without honest, fact-based debate and without either a needs assessment or an impact study on how passage of the bill will affect the state budget or the voters ourselves. Today's House Appropriations Committee passed the bill without even bothering to discuss the myriad Democratic amendments proposed. Systematically, one by one, each of the amendments proposed by Democrats was defeated without even the briefest of parlays.
It's possible that the N.C House was in a rush to pass its version of VIVA so quickly today because House Republicans learned that investigative reporters are looking into the Voter Integrity Project as well as House Republican allegations of voter fraud that underpin VIVA. Several people who were listed as "felons" on an initial list of voter-fraud claims plan to speak publicly about the allegations presented against them. Voters all across the state are calling Gov. Pat McCrory to ask him to veto the bill if it passes the N.C. House and Senate and is presented for his signature; so many voters have been calling, in fact, that additional phone lines have had to be added and staffed to handle the traffic of confused and angry voters.
When questioned about the lack of a needs assessment or impact study, Rep. Lewis presented us with the Legislative Fiscal Note for House Bill 589 (VIVA). According to the fiscal estimate, implementation of VIVA will cost nearly $4 million dollars. However, these projections call for a ridiculously low estimate of staff time (10 FTE positions, with no increases over four years), no estimate of infrastructure needs, no inclusions of office overhead costs, and no allowances for the provision of ID-card substitutes for people who have a religious objection to being photographed.
VIVA and its budget also do not take into consideration one of the known methods of voter fraud in North Carolina: not in-person voting but absentee ballots.
When asked about the historical record on fraudulent absentee ballots versus a virtually nonexistent record on in-person balloting, Rep. Lewis tosses his hands in the air and says, "We can't have perfection, but we can protect the ... well ... despite the Voter Integrity Project's malignment of the term, we just have to say it, the 'integrity' of our government and its electoral process."
I find Rep. Lewis to be easy to talk with. He's noticeably embarrassed by the lies and exploitations of the Voter Integrity Project. He admits he's angry about what they've done to malign his cause. He agrees that when we look at our household budgets, sometimes the "wants" have to be put on hold until the "needs" are taken care of and room has been made for that new family room addition or the vacation to Tea Party Paradise.
But he and Rep. Thom Tillis, N.C. Speaker of the House, want VIVA passed. And they'll do whatever they can and project whatever numbers they want to make it the law here in North Carolina.
We are pushing for a third voter ID public hearing, one that can be conducted without interference and fiction from the Voter Integrity Project, and one at which a needs assessment and impact study are provided for the voters before we rush into something we cannot pay for and do not need.
Give Rep. David Lewis a call and let him know we want a public hearing that's truly "of the people" and not "of the lies": 919-715-3015.
(Don't bother with emails. As legislative assistant after legislative assistant has told J and me in the past couple weeks, with nearly 2,000 bills submitted in the past 12 weeks, our N.C. General Assembly members are inundated with too many emails to read.)