Tuesday, April 9, 2013

House Speaker Thom Tillis: This bill has benefits that go far beyond the voting implications. People need to know about that.


N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis

April 8, 2013

USA DOT COM's Verne Strickland got an exclusive phone interview with House Speaker Thom Tillis as the lawmaker left Raleigh earlier this week. They talked about Voter ID, important accomplishments during the recent session, and the Speaker's political possibilities going forward.

In 2011 when we filed the bill, the title was Restoring Confidence in Government. The idea is that there is probably some fraud in the State, so we want to reduce the potential that fraud, which seems to be there on a limited basis now, might grow exponentially if not curbed.

The goal is just to remove the arguments from people, particularly in closed elections, that maybe an election was settled through fraudulent activity. So when people say there are only dozens of cases of fraud reported, (the board of elections said there may have been some 300 in legislative races, which were settled by only a handful of votes) why wouldn’t we restore confidence in the outcomes of those election by saying people need to authenticate themselves, or present some sort of reliable ID?

The more we understand that there are people who live in North Carolina who do not have an ID, because they just don’t have the resources to get one, there’s a great benefit to anyone being able to have a way to identify themselves and prove it. Not only in the voting booth, but at the drug store, at the bus stop, at the airport, or anywhere that you need to present an ID or be disenfranchised from fully participating in society. That’s a benefit that has becomes more clear to us as we learn more about the issue.

VS: How do you respond to charges that this is an intended way to disenfranchise minority voters?

I think if we are honest about opposition to Voter ID, we must know that they are standing on an ideological argument instead of a practical argument. In Georgia, which is probably the best example, they have roughly the same demographical situation, roughly the same population -- they implemented Photo ID in Georgia. Since they did, there is no data to suggest that any demographic is voting less.  As a matter of fact, voter participation in Georgia has gone up some. 
I think the naysayers are going back to the old playbook of how to oppose Voter ID laws. Then they try to say this is a case of Republican versus Democrat. Over 70 percent of the citizens of North Carolina feel that having a Voter ID requirement before you vote is something that they want. 
There are several other States led by Democratic majority that have implemented various Voter ID laws. Most other countries, in fact, have voter ID laws. If anything, I think Rev. Barber is out of step with trends at the national as well as the international level. There’s really nothing here to dispute. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of fact. They are out of step with America on both sides of the issue.

Democrats, Republicans, African-Americans, and others -- all of them are part of this majority of people in North Carolina who say that a voter ID requirement is not an unreasonable requirement.
VS: Where are we now in pursuing this to fruition?

The way the bill is filed is – after it is passed – it has to go through the process of pre-clearance. North Carolina, which is a Voting Rights Act State, we have additional requirements and a handful of other States also due to the Voting Rights Act. So it has to go through the Department of Justice Review, it will most likely go through court challenges, and what we’ve tried to do in the bill is be absolutely certain that we’ve put all the processes and policies in place to make certain we are getting the IDs to the people who want them -- that  the boards of elections are prepared with the new policies, and we do this through a very methodical fashion over the next couple of years so when we get  to 2016, the next presidential election, the provisions will be in place. Of course many of these provisions will already be in place after the bill becomes law and goes through pre-clearance. Further, we are looking at ways, over the next few years, that we can make identification easier and more efficient, not only using the Motor Vehicles infrastructure, but also the boards of elections and other government agencies.
VS: I know you want to ensure that every means is explored to keep this bill out of court.

Yes, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Voting Rights Act, court cases that have been brought against Voter ID bills in other States, and we’re trying to be respectful of court decisions, to recognize that there is a law of the land, and that to the extent that has influenced our bill, we are aware of the influences. Those who are in favor of Voter ID may want to avoid going  down a path that we know will not be approved in the court.
VS: Is this the weightiest issue right now that is on your agenda? 

Not at all. A lot of people say with all the things going on, why are you spending legislative resources on
Voter ID? The weightiest issue we have to deal with is rightly the budget. When we get a balanced budget in place, how do we make sure that the critical needs of the people of North Carolina are addressed? How do we adjust the tax code and reduce the tax burden on the citizens so we are more competitive than other Southeastern States? How do we help public education perform better, and how do we get Raleigh out of the way and the federal government to the extent possible, so the teachers once again can be empowered to teach, and remove many of the burdens and regulations that we’ve imposed on them so they can do great things for the students. Those are the issues that I wake up every morning thinking about. Voter ID is a good governance and good policy measure, and I think it is far more straightforward and less challenging than some of these other issues that we dedicate the bulk of our time to.
VS: What is being done by Thom Tillis and the GOP, to alert citizens on what this is all about – and move it forward?

Hearings are in progress. A lot of this is through the public hearing process -- it will be heard in committee this week.  At a public hearing earlier we had 100 people speak. We had hearings that had expert witnesses coming in to describe experiences in other states.  It’s a thorough process. We have to do a better job getting  the word out about the effect this will have on the voting process, the new rules, how you go about getting an ID, how we can help them get  documents they may not have, like a birth certificate, for example. This is why I’m excited about it. It has benefits that go far beyond the key requirements for voting. And people need to know about it.
VS: One more question – are you going to run for the U.S. Senate? 

I don’t know. Right now all my time and attention is going into making sure we fulfill the promises we’ve made to the voters when they gave us their vote of support that resulted in a Republican majority. We have a lot of work to do in the Legislative long session. My focus is that I as Speaker perform my job to fulfill many of those promises around tax reform, around education, around getting a balanced budget, around regulatory reform, and a lot of whether I ever run for office again will be dependent upon how I view myself as being the leader in the House in fulfilling these promises. Then we'll see.