This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
The shape of election law is changing across North Carolina, but the changes that made headlines don’t take effect this year.
A sweeping bill signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Aug. 12 shortens the early-voting period by about a week starting in 2014 and will require photo identification starting in 2016.
Some local boards of elections, shifting to Republican control because their makeup is partially based on the sitting governor’s political party, have also instituted changes of their own, primarily affecting college students. Watauga County, for instance, eliminated on-campus voting.In Caldwell, the board of elections has not made county-level changes, Director of Elections Sandra Rich said Friday.
The state-level changes have drawn controversy both within the state and nationally. The North Carolina chapters of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters have filed lawsuits challenging the law. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and former secretary of state Colin Powell are among the national figures who have denounced the law, saying it amounts to voter suppression.
Rich said her office will adapt to the changes.
“There is some good and some bad in it, but we as boards of elections, we take our directions from the state board,” she said. “We have got to cope with that and go forward with everything that we are directed to do.”
The local board will work to get information out to voters, Rich said, listing information on its website, making presentations to civic groups and putting together programming for the county’s public-access television station. The elections office also will hold off on training precinct workers as long as possible in case the courts rule on the lawsuits, she said.
Among the few changes taking effect this year, starting in September 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be able to pre-register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Starting in 2014, voters will have 10 days to participate in early voting, instead of two and a half weeks. However, the bill requires that counties “offer the same number of early voting hours in presidential elections as were available in 2012 and an equal number of early voting hours in midterm elections as were offered in 2010.” That means polling places will be open longer, or additional polling places will be opened, although the number of days for early voting will shrink.
The 2013 election is the last in which voters who mistakenly go to the wrong precinct to vote will be able to fill out a provisional ballot and have it count.
Starting in 2014, voters who wish to vote absentee will have to file a state-provided application, notarized and bearing the signatures of two witnesses, instead of just providing written notice to the local board of elections.
Starting in 2016, voters will be required to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Rich said the questions she has received most often from Caldwell County voters are about voter ID. She has told those callers they can go to the Register of Deeds to request a copy of their marriage license or birth certificate, then take that document to the DMV to receive a free ID.
Advocates say the changes are intended to prevent voter fraud, and the cite polls showing most North Carolinians support voter ID requirements. But opponents say in-person voter fraud is rare and call the changes an attempt to disenfranchise voters who are less likely to vote Republican – mostly people who are poor, young or African-American.
North Carolina is at least the 11th state to pass a voter ID bill.
For more information, visit the board of elections website.