New data from the State Board of Elections show far fewer voters lack photo identification than critics of a voter ID bill suggest.
The new information roughly halves the potential number of registered voters without photo ID from the 612,000 in a January report to about 318,000.
The detailed figures were provided Tuesday to The Associated Press by North Carolina House Republicans and later confirmed in a draft report from the State Board of Elections. The voter ID bill comes up for debate in the state House this week.
Ray Starling, general counsel for Speaker Thom Tillis, argues the number is likely even less because about 115,000 of those identified in the latest analysis have not voted in the last five elections.
"We feel pretty confident that if you didn't vote in the last five elections, you're not going to," he said.
That conclusion was supported by Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett, who said he expects to release a written report Wednesday.
"There are a very minimal number of voters who just have not voted that resurface" to cast votes for special issues or candidates, he said.
Legislation that would require voters to present one of eight state-issued forms of ID at the polls has drawn fierce criticism from civil rights groups and others who argue such laws are Republican efforts to suppress turnout among Democratic-leaning groups. A 2011 attempt to pass voter ID legislation failed, but Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory supports their efforts.
The new bill originally included a provision waiving fees for state-issued ID only for those who swear they can't afford to pay under penalty of perjury, but an updated version removes costs for all registered voters who say they lack the documents needed to obtain ID.
Jordan Shaw, Tillis' communications director, said the removal of the perjury-enforced oath along with the new figures bolster Republican claims that critics exaggerate the potential effects of the bill.
"I think what you'll see during this voter ID debate...tomorrow is an effort by a shrinking number of people to attack not based on the merits of the bill but based on partisan reasons," he said.
But Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham and an opponent of the bill, questioned the intent behind the bill change.
"This is about getting through the courts and Section Five of the Voting Rights Act," he said.
Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, said he always expected the number of voters without ID to be revised downward, but the new figures still far outnumber documented cases of voter fraud.
"That's (still) so many more than any voter fraud involving impersonation that anyone has shown," he said. "We're talking about magnitudes far above any evidence that would justify putting these folks through extra burdens."
Hall also cautioned against drawing conclusions before the racial breakdown of the new figures is fully evaluated by the public, because studies show minority voters are disproportionately affected by voter ID legislation.
Previous estimates cross-referenced registered voter lists with Division of Motor Vehicles records to arrive at a number of potential voters who may lack ID. The latest analysis expanded the combinations of personal data that could produce a match.
The bill is scheduled for debate in the House Elections Committee Wednesday.