Smithfield Herald

May 12, 2014

Former senator Kinnaird to lead Clayton voter forum

A former state senator who resigned over North Carolina’s controversial election changes will lead a Clayton voter forum later this month.

A former state senator who resigned over North Carolina’s voter-law changes will lead a forum in Clayton later this month.

Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Orange County, stepped down last summer after serving 17 years in the legislature. She said her decision came on the heels of several high-profile laws supported by Republican lawmakers, who control the General Assembly.

Kinnaird was most vocal about sweeping voter legislation that shortened the early voting period, ended same-day registration and will require North Carolinians to show a photo ID when they vote. She will discuss the changes May 24 during a forum at Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library, 100 S. Church St. The forum is one of several Kinnaird has organized with help from Democracy North Carolina, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Durham.

“They are changes people need to be aware of, so they can adjust their voting habits,” Kinnaird said, adding that the forum is a nonpartisan event.

Republican sponsors said the voting changes would save money and prevent voter fraud. Critics, however, claimed the legislation targeted minority voters and other bases of Democratic support. Several groups, including the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing the state over the legislation.

Notable changes include cutting the early voting period by one week. North Carolinians have relied more heavily on early voting sites in recent years. In the run-up to the May 6 primaries this year, about 3,087 Johnston County citizens voted early , according to the Johnston County Board of Elections.

The General Assembly also ended same-day registration, which allowed voters who missed the registration deadline to fill out a form during the early-voting period. Voters face hard deadlines this year. For the November general elections, the last day to register is Oct. 10.

But the most talked about change is the voter-ID requirement, which will require voters to show a valid form of identification at the polls. Unlike the early-voting and same-day-registration changes, which went into effect this year, the voter-ID requirement doesn’t start until 2016.

Clayton resident Becka Powers contacted Kinnaird about hosting the forum. A former teacher, Powers has taken an interest in informing younger citizens about the voting process by visiting area high schools and Johnston Community College.

“I’ve always been interested in educating young people,” Powers said. “That was the focus I wanted to develop, to make sure that if teenagers were interested, I could give them information.”

The new voting changes also eliminated a pre-registration program that allowed students ages 16 and 17 to sign up before they were eligible to vote. The program also required local boards of elections to assist in voter registration at schools.

The Clayton forum will start at 10:30 a.m. Admission is free.

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