Commentary

Christensen: Dry run of NC's voter ID law hits a few bumps

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJuly 1, 2014 

VOTING17-NE-050614-CCS

Voters cast their ballots at Penny Rd. Elementary School in Cary, NC on May 6, 2014.Voters were casting their ballots in the statewide primary election.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

The May primary was kind of a dry run for North Carolina’s new politically charged voter ID law.

Although the law does not go into effect until 2016, primary voters were asked by polling officials if they had an acceptable photo ID, and if they didn’t whether they would be willing to sign an acknowledgment that they did not have photo ID. The idea was to educate and prepare voters for the new law.

To monitor the dry run, Democracy North Carolina, a Durham group that has been skeptical of the new voter ID law, decided to conduct a survey of primary voters. With the help of Ignite NC and Common Cause, the group trained a team of volunteers to quiz voters as they left the polls.

The survey of 7,134 voters was conducted in 34 of North Carolina’s 100 counties. The questions were designed by and the results were tabulated by Martha Kropf, a political science professor at UNC Charlotte.

Confusion at some precincts

The survey found that things did not always go smoothly.

For example, 18 percent of the voters quizzed said they were not asked if they had voter IDs – the whole purpose of the dry run.

There were also examples of voting officials going too far – of actually requiring voters to produce a photo ID before they could vote, even though it is not a requirement until 2016.

For example, Samuel and Jacqueline Cannon of Greenville, voting at the American Legion polling place, told interviewers that they were required to fetch photo IDs from their car, even though the law was not in effect.

Roger and Carolyn Jones of Erwin likewise said they were required to show a photo ID when they showed up at the Bunnlevel Fire Department.

But for the most part, the survey results were not startling. Of those who had been asked about a photo ID, about 75 percent said they found the information “clear and understandable.”

People were a bit confused about when the voter ID would be first required. The survey found that 54 percent correctly said it would go into effect during the 2016 primary, with 19 percent saying they thought it would begin in the 2016 general election, while the rest were uncertain or gave other dates.

Divisions over law itself

Not surprisingly, there were deep divisions about the law. Voters were asked whether the voter ID law – as well other voter law changes such as new registration requirements and early voting times – made them feel more or less confident about the security of North Carolina elections. Thirty-two percent said the changes made them more confident, 32 percent less confident and 34 about the same.

Meanwhile 44 percent of the voters said the changes made them feel less confident that voting rules were fair, while 30 percent said it made them feel more confident.

The survey was not meant to be a scientific sampling. About half of those questioned were African-Americans, among the strongest opponents of voter ID laws.

There were strong racial differences in how primary voters viewed the voter ID law – the report called them “large and statistically significant.” About 44 percent of white voters said the changes made them more confident about election security, while only 20 percent of black voters did.

The voter ID bill, passed by the legislature in 2013, is being challenged in court. A preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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