Voter responsibility

Published 5:06 pm Friday, April 11, 2008

By Staff
The North Carolina Presidential Preference Primary is fast approaching. Most voters will have a very positive experience when casting their ballots. Others will find the process not so appealing. A process that should be a quick stop ends up taking much longer than the voter expects or wants.
Voter information that a board of elections has on hand is a direct result of how important the right to participate in the process is to the voter. It is the voter’s responsibility to keep his or her registration information current. It is the board of elections’ responsibility to have registration files reflect the most recent information provided by the voter.
Federal and state law prevent boards of elections from altering any voter’s registration information without proper documentation. Usually, proper documentation means completing the voter registration application with updated information. The application allows the board of elections to verify information such as address, age and name. The application also requires the voter’s signature. Boards of elections cannot change a voter’s information without his or her consent.
Eligible voters rarely think about their voter registration information until Election Day. And since countywide elections usually only happen every two years, there is little incentive to think about their information at any other time during the two-year cycle. People are conditioned that when they move or when their name changes, that they must notify a long list of agencies such as the post office and the DMV. For some, updating their voter registrations never crosses their minds.
On Election Day, poll officials are given current voter registration lists in order to allow properly registered voters access to the ballot. Those lists are provided by the board of elections, and they are compiled using the most recent information provided by the voter. Voters are asked to give their names and addresses so that poll officials can verify that the voters are in fact registered and verified. If there are no discrepancies between the information provided by the voter and the information provided on the registration list, the voter is given a ballot and allowed to vote. This scenario leads to good experiences in the polling place.
The problem occurs when the voter provides information that does not correspond to current voter registration lists provided by the board of elections. Poll officials then will send the voter to an exceptions table where poll officials will then contact the board of elections to research the root of the problem, which takes additional time and paperwork for the voter.
A registered voter, who has moved and not updated his or her information with the board of elections, may not appear on the registration list in the proper precinct. The voter most likely is still listed on the list at a former precinct. A registered voter, who had changed his or her name, may not appear on the registration list. The voter most likely is still listed under the former last name. Unless the previous information is given, on the surface, it may appear that a registered voter is not registered at all.
A voter also may have problems when he or she finds out on Election Day that his or her particular party information does not reflect his or her current political status. Changes to voter information may also include updating party affiliation or that a voter wishes to not be affiliated with a state recognized party at all.
Presidential primaries and elections tend to have higher turnout percentages than off year general elections. Some registered voters only participate in presidential elections, which leaves a four-year period of possible changes in voter information.
American citizens have the choice to register and vote. If a citizen is not registered, today’s deadline to register for the May 6 primary elections is fast approaching. It is the voter’s responsibility to insure that he or she are indeed properly registered to vote. Registered voters who feel their current voter registration information does not reflect recent changes, must charge themselves, and only themselves, to make sure that information is correct. Current voter registration information can be verified by the voter simply by calling the board of elections or visiting the North Carolina State Board of Elections’ Web site where they can look up their information.
A small amount of time spent prior to the election, to ensure that a citizen is registered or that his or her information is correct, will lead to a gratifying experience on Election Day. For those who do not register or update their information, prepare to spend more time, and energy, at the polling place on Election Day.
Kellie Harris Hopkins is elections director for Beaufort County.