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North Carolina lawmakers approve voter photo I.D. law

By Ned Barnett

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - North Carolina's Republican-led legislature on Thursday sent a bill to Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue that will require voters to present photo identification before casting a ballot.

Under the measure, every voter must present a valid photo ID. A new voter ID card will be provided free to those without a driver's license or other standard forms of photo identification.

Those without a valid photo ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but it won't count unless proper identification is shown before the general vote is certified.

Republicans said the legislation will reduce voter fraud, but Democrats -- as they have in other states where newly elected Republican majorities have passed similar laws -- condemned it as an attempt to keep minorities and the elderly from voting.

"I think it's part of a very cynical strategy," said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a voter advocacy group.

"Republicans have decided to use (the photo ID law) to narrow who can vote and disadvantage people they think don't share their philosophy."

Republicans countered that a photo ID is required for cashing a check or proving one's age and should also be required for voting.

"Requiring voters to show a photo ID will boost their confidence and increase participation at the polls -- two things the governor should join most North Carolinians in supporting," Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said.

Polls in North Carolina have shown a majority of voters favor the photo ID requirement.

Perdue has criticized the measure but has not indicated whether she will veto it.

If the governor does reject the legislation, the House vote of 62-51 on Thursday suggested that Republicans would not be able to muster the three-fifths majority needed to override a veto.

At least a dozen states now require photo identification from voters. Republican-controlled legislatures around the county have cited fraud as they push for voter ID bills.

But many elections officials say fraud is not a problem. They note that voters must already present a valid ID when they register and deliberately casting a fraudulent vote is already a felony.

Gary Sims, deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, said fraud is exceedingly rare even though his county has the highest voter turnout in North Carolina.

"I almost have to say it doesn't exist," Sims told Reuters on Thursday.

Sims said there were nearly 280,000 votes cast in the 2010 election. His office forwarded "six or eight" cases to the district attorney to review for fraud and none have been confirmed, he said.

(Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Bohan)

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