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U.S. Justice Department approves state’s same-day registration law

By Staff
Eligible citizens
may use process
in fall elections
By MIKE VOSS
Contributing Editor
North Carolina residents, if qualified to vote, may register to vote and mark ballots the same day during the early-voting period before any election held on or after Oct. 9.
This week, the State Board of Elections received the U.S. Justice Department’s written approval for North Carolina residents to avail themselves of that privilege. Early voting, also known as one-stop voting, takes place at a county’s board of elections office or other designated one-stop polling places in that county.
The General Assembly ratified the bill July 12. Gov. Mike Easley signed it July 20. The law was reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice to assure it complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.
Hopkins said she’s confident the State Board of Elections and the boards of elections in the state’s 100 counties “can implement this process with relative ease.”
In Beaufort, Martin and Washington counties, Oct. 12 is the deadline to register to vote in the general elections. In those counties, one-stop voting begins Oct. 18 and concludes at 1 p.m. Nov. 3. Absentee voting by mail begins Oct. 5.
Hyde County has no municipal elections.
In Washington County, Roper voters follow a different election schedule than voters in Plymouth or Creswell.
Election Day in Roper is Oct. 9. A run-off election, if needed, would be held Nov. 6.
People must be registered by Sept. 14 to vote in the Oct. 9 election. Absentee voting by mail begins Sept. 7 and concludes at 1 p.m. Oct. 6.
One-stop, no-excuse voting begins Sept. 20 and ends at 1 p.m. the last Saturday (Oct. 6) before the election.
North Carolina is the only state in the South to offer a form of same-day registration. It’s also the largest and most diverse state to allow the process. Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming offer same-day registration. Those states allow same-day registration on Election Day. In 2008, Iowa will same-day registration.
According to a two-paragraph letter, dated Aug. 16 and signed by John Tanner, chief of the voting section of the Department of Justice, “The Attorney General does not interpose any objections to the specified changes” in the state’s election law. The sign-off by the Justice Department is required under the pre-clearance section of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The approval marks the conclusion of a multi-year campaign by voting-rights groups to make voting more accessible and secure, especially for young people and others who move frequently or who have inflexible work schedules and transportation options, according to Democracy North Carolina.
Election officials must now provide a provisional ballot to anyone who wants to vote and then research the person’s eligibility. Many election officials favor same-day registration because it will drastically reduce the need for provisional ballots, according to Democracy North Carolina.
Opponents of the new law contend its identification requirements are too easy. Prospective voters are allowed to show bank statements, utility bills or other government documents as proof of their current addresses.
The law includes safeguards to help prevent ineligible people from voting.
“The person’s vote shall be counted unless the county board determines that the applicant is not qualified to vote in accordance with the provisions of this chapter,” reads the law.
How it works
The same-day registration law allows a citizen to go to a one-stop early voting site in the county, show proper identification to an election official, fill out the registration form, swear under penalty of a felony that the information is accurate and then cast a ballot — all on the same day.
Forms of acceptable identification include these documents with the person’s current address:
The registration form is processed immediately through computerized and staff data matching and an address correction card sent via mail; if a problem arises, the ballot (which is coded to the person) can be pulled before the canvass date for the election.