How eliminating same-day registration has disenfranchised North Carolinians

How eliminating same-day registration has disenfranchised North Carolinians

- in Progressive Voices

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Isabel Najera was excited to vote in her first election as a U.S. citizen in 2014. The North Carolina mother of four did everything right to cast a ballot that would count. She registered in time, went to the right polling place, and showed up to cast a ballot during early voting. But through no fault of her own, Isabel’s registration was lost and her vote did not count.

Isabel is one of dozens of witnesses who has testified in the trial over North Carolina’s voter suppression law. The ACLU, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and others are challenging provisions of the law that eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and a full week of early voting. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians used these voting options in previous elections before they were repealed by the General Assembly in 2013 by what many observers called the worst voter suppression law in the nation.

Isabel was born in Mexico and came to the United States 21 years ago as a legal permanent resident. She worked as a migrant farm worker before getting a job with her local Head Start, teaching 2- and 3-year-olds life and socialization skills. Isabel earned her GED, an associate’s degree in early childhood education, and on July 30, 2014, she became a U.S. citizen. Later that year, Isabel went to her local DMV to obtain a commercial driver’s license so she could transport Head Start students on field trips and visits to doctor’s offices. While there, she was asked if she would like to register to vote. She said yes. It was the first week of October, and she was told she had registered in time to vote in the upcoming election.

On October 29, during North Carolina’s early voting period, Isabel went to cast her ballot at her assigned polling location, but after two hours of searching, elections officials couldn’t find her registration. Her vote was not counted — even though she did everything right. In previous elections, Isabel could have used same-day registration to re-register and cast a ballot during early voting—ensuring that her vote would count.

For thousands of North Carolinians, same-day registration has served in past elections as a failsafe against unforeseen problems, guaranteeing they could still cast a ballot even if they had to update information or their registration was lost through an error.

The court has heard from many other votes whose ballots could have been saved by same-day registration.

  • Dale Hicks, a former Marine sergeant who served in Afghanistan, testified that his vote didn’t count in the 2014 election because he didn’t update his voter registration when he moved from one county to another and was therefore unable to vote in either. If North Carolina still had same-day registration, he could have re-registered at his new address and cast a ballot that counted.
  • Jessica Jackson, a Gaston County resident who has successfully voted at the same polling location ever since she was 18, explained the frustration of learning that her voter registration had vanished without a trace because it was merged with another voter with the same name. She spent hours speaking to election officials who could not find her registration and told her to cast a provisional ballot, but her vote was ultimately not counted. Same-day registration would have fixed the problem.
  • Sandra Beatty, a Greenville resident who is legally blind, has two prosthetic legs, and can’t travel or read on her own, explained in a videotaped deposition how being able to register and vote in one visit with same-day registration makes it easier for disabled people like herself to participate in elections. In 2014, she had a friend drive her to vote in her first North Carolina election, but because she didn’t register in time, her vote didn’t count.

In 2014, the first election under North Carolina’s voter suppression law, more than 11,000 registration forms were submitted during early voting. In years past, the people who submitted those forms could have registered and voted on the same day. But under North Carolina’s new restrictions, their votes no longer count.

Supporters of the law often talk about protecting the integrity of our elections. But there is little integrity in a system that allows the votes of eligible, registered voters to go uncounted.

Mike Meno is the Communications Director for the ACLU of North Carolina.