[Editor’s note: This past Tuesday’s primary election in North Carolina was the first statewide vote to take place under the new voter ID regime enacted by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory. As you will recall, a voter ID requirement was originally enacted as part of a package of controversial changes to state election laws in 2013 that many critics believe amounted to an effort to suppress voter turnout in targeted communities. The provision was challenged in court and watered down in a last minute amendment during the 2015 legislative session, but has now gone into effect in that somewhat less onerous from. Since the enactment of the 2013 law, watchdog groups have been monitoring its impact. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s vote, Democracy North Carolina Communications Director Jen Jones reports below on the results this week.]
While most North Carolina voters cast their ballots with relative ease, thousands of others faced serious problems because of the state’s election law changes, according to a voting-rights organization that coordinated the largest nonpartisan poll monitoring program in the state’s history on March 15.
Democracy North Carolina, in a partnership with Ignite NC, Common Cause and the NAACP, trained and deployed over 700 volunteers to monitor key precincts in more than 40 counties on Election Day. Clad in yellow t-shirts, the “Vote Protectors” collected exit surveys, compiled reports of voting problems, and connected voters to attorneys and law students at a call center at the University of North Carolina’s School of Law.
On Election Day and during early voting, the hotline received over 1,000 calls from voters seeking information and requesting assistance on a range of issues. A preliminary review shows that the issues included:
* Understaffing and poorly trained election workers,
* Incorrect and inconsistent application of the new voter ID law,
* Failure to provide provisional ballots to eligible voters,
* Last-minute polling place changes,
* Long lines caused by too few in-take stations, help desks, and voting machine.
“We were encouraged that so many people persisted in making sure their voice was heard, but it was painful to hear about voters harmed by the new voting rules and by the same poor polling-place administration that we documented during the 2014 election cycle, often in the same places,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC.
Hall noted that thousands of citizens had their votes saved by two provisions that a federal court blocked from being repealed – same-day registration during early voting and out-of-precinct voting on Election Day. “All the problems from this primary will be far worse in the general election, when we’ll have more voters, more ID confusion, and the possible loss of those two back-up safety provisions, said Hall.
“The complaints documented during the primary show the senseless bureaucratic burden of the new ID requirement, as well as the urgent need for greater investment in poll-worker training, equipment and a modernized election system,” Hall said.
The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which coordinates a national system of hot lines and provided crucial support to the North Carolina operation, provided several stories  from the hotline calls in the state:
Eligible voter encounters problem with voter ID requirement:
A voter in Wake County only had a temporary driver’s license for today’s election. The poll worker at her polling location said she would have to cast a provisional ballot and it should count according to the state’s “reasonable impediment” law, but because the voter was not confident that her ballot would be counted, she returned home to get her passport which is a valid form of ID. The voter has voted in the same precinct and polling location for the last 20 years and never had a problem casting a ballot.
Long-time voter not on voter roll at polling place where she has voted for last 30 years:
A woman in Durham County went to her polling place where she has voted for the past 30 years but a poll worker could not find her on the voter rolls. After searching the voter rolls several times and then asking the chief judge for help, the poll worker offered the voter a provisional ballot. The voter did not want to vote provisionally and went to the Board of Elections where she waited in line for another 45 minutes before she was able to cast a regular ballot. Upon contacting Election Protection, a volunteer was also able to verify her voter registration status and noted that she has voted in 62 previous elections. The voter indicated she was concerned for other voters who may not have had the time or resources to follow up in the way she did in order to ensure that they cast a ballot that counts.
Election Protection Helps 93-Year-Old Voter to Cast a Ballot:
A 93-year-old voter was initially denied a ballot after attempting to vote with an expired ID. Both a Democracy NC poll monitor and Election Protection hotline volunteer informed her of her right to vote with the ID. Armed with this information, she went back to the polling place, informed the poll workers that she should be allowed to vote with an expired ID (as she is over the age of 70), and was allowed to cast her vote.
No notification of last minute polling place location:
At North Carolina Central University the polling place was moved from the student union to the law school. This change was not reflected on the Durham County Board of Elections website for most of the day, and no signs were present indicating the change and directing voters to the new location. An Election Protection volunteer created a sign to inform voters of the move and redirected over 100 people to the new polling location. Many of the voters were elderly and had trouble getting across campus, which included a steep hill. As of 4:15 p.m. EDT today, several hours after the opening of the polls, the Durham County Board of Elections appeared to have updated their website.
Lines Over an Hour Long in Wilmington:
Long lines were reported at the VFW polling location in Wilmington where voters were waiting over an hour to vote, many of whom were elderly. An Election Protection volunteer encouraged voters to stay in line, but counted at least 17 people who left the polling location without casting a ballot.
Democracy NC is already gearing up to increase its poll monitoring and hotline efforts during the November General Election when voter turnout is expected to rival that of prior presidential election cycles.
Democracy North Carolina (democracync.org ) based in Durham, North Carolina, is a nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and advocacy to increase voter participation, reduce the influence of big money in politics and achieve a government that is truly of the people, by the people and for the people.