Court’s ruling removes ‘safety-net’ provisions

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sixty Beaufort County voters marked ballots during the March 15 primary races by taking advantage of “safety-net” provisions in North Carolina’s election laws — provisions the North Carolina General Assembly majority has tried to eliminate, according to Democracy North Carolina.

Currently, those two provisions — same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting — are allowed in North Carolina, but they will end after the June 7 primary for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those provisions were results of a preliminary injunction, granted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, during litigation challenging changes the Legislature made to the state’s election laws in 2013.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder ruled against the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina NAACP chapter and several voters who sued, alleging the changes were passed to discriminate against poor and minority voters in violation of the Constitution and U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Those plaintiffs filed an appeal Tuesday morning. In an email sent to local boards of elections Tuesday, Kimberly W. Strach, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, wrote, “Therefore, additional changes may be ordered ahead of the General Election. So please be on the lookout for updates from this office as things develop.”

During the March primary voting period, about 12,800 voters marked ballots.

Across the state, a little more than 29,000 voters participated in the primary by using those “safety-net” provisions, according to Democracy North Carolina, which analyzed data from the State Board of Elections. In Beaufort County, according to a Democracy North Carolina news release, 53 voters were “saved” by being able to use the same-day registration provision, which allows voters to mark ballots on the same day they register during the voting period. Seven voters were “saved” by being able to vote out of their assigned voting precincts, according to the release.

Out-of-precinct voters mark provisional ballots, which are reviewed by elections officials who determine if the votes on those ballots should be counted.

Kellie Harris Hopkins, elections director for Beaufort County, believes the two provision influenced voter participation in the county.

“It’s really hard to say about same-day. Some-same day registrants may have registered prior to the 25-day deadline but intentionally waited knowing same-day was available. But prior to implementation of same-day, we would always have voters who failed to register 25 days prior. Same-day did give them the opportunity to properly register and have their ballot counted,” according to Hopkins. “Every election we have voters that vote provisionally out-of-precinct. It is not so much out of convenience but rather confusion. They may have an address change or just simply confused about what polling place to go to. Being able to count ballots voted out-of-precinct by qualified voters allows us to at least partially count the ballot. For example, if a voter goes to the Bunyan fire department but should have gone to the Bunyan Ruritan building, we could at least count their vote for president, governor … and not count school board. If this is not allowed, we couldn’t count anything.”
Asked if there is any value in the two provisions resulting in just one voter being able to participate in an election or primary, Hopkins responded: “There is no way to foresee how close each election is going to be prior to the election. One vote could make a difference in the outcome of the election. We just don’t know until the election is done.”

Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, contends that same-day registration is valuable because it addresses deficiencies related to registering to vote at Division of Motor Vehicles offices across the state, adding that process is not automatic or error-free. “Same-day registration is a valuable safety net that rescues voters from human error and deficiencies at DMV and other agencies. It will harm citizens of all ages, races and parties if same-day registration is eliminated, but it will especially hurt lower income and younger voters who tend to move from place to place,” he said in the release.

“So much attention has been given to the impact of the voter ID law, but the loss of the two safety-net provisions will likely have a bigger impact on more individual voters and on the outcome of North Carolina elections,” according to Hall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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