Those wishing to cast a ballot in May’s primary election must register to vote by Friday – and this year the deadline is final.
Since 2008, North Carolinians who missed the deadline got a second chance: They could both register and vote at the polls during the early voting period, as late as three days before Election Day. But last year’s sweeping state election law eliminated that provision and reverted to past methods, which require registration 25 days before an election.
Kim Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections, said she doesn’t expect the change to pose a problem for voters.
“We’re trying to do our best to educate people about it and make sure people are aware of the deadline and make sure it’s business as usual,” Strach said.
Others argue that some people are unaware of the earlier deadline and will be unable to vote.
“People talk about the word ‘disenfranchising’ – that’s something that will be on my mind,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the political advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina.
“When you had a law that allowed people to register up to three days before Election Day, and then suddenly they can’t, that’s a problem.”
The approaching April 11 deadline is the latest change in last year’s elections law to come into effect. Other changes that will be enacted for the May 6 primary are a shortened early voting period – which starts April 24 – and no straight-ticket voting.
Another provision, the requirement of a government-issued photo ID to vote, doesn’t go into effect until 2016, but voters will be informed about that change at the polls this year and given information on how to get a proper ID if they need one.
Restricting voter access
Conservatives say the elimination of same-day registration will help cut down on voter fraud and increase security without affecting turnout. But Democrats argue there’s no evidence same-day registration led to fraud. Instead, they say the change is simply a move to bar voters – particularly younger and first-time voters – from the polls.
In 2012, the number of voters who missed the initial deadline but were able to vote because of same-day registration was 97,000, said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina.
State Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, said she is concerned that few know about the deadline.
“I thought one-stop, same-day registration was a great expansion of the electorate in our state and increased opportunities, especially for the youth, to vote,” said Harrison, who serves on a joint House-Senate legislative elections oversight committee. “It’s unfortunate that we’ve taken away that opportunity, and it will reflect in a shrunken electorate.”
But Rep. David Lewis, a Dunn Republican and chairman of the House elections committee, said primary voters – often more engaged than others – are aware that they need to be registered and won’t be kept from the polls.
“I don’t think having a registration requirement is an impairment to participating,” he said. “It’s not hard to register to vote. It’s a part of your civic responsibility if you want to participate in the process.”
Spreading the word
Phillips said state efforts to educate the public are meager.
Veronica DeGraffenreid, election preparation and support manager for the State Board of Elections, said a voter guide that includes a summary of the changes is in the process of being sent to every residential address in the state. College dormitory addresses, however, were excluded. The guide is also available online at ncsbe.gov.
All other outreach efforts would come from county boards of elections, DeGraffenreid said.
Hall’s group, Democracy NC, has been working with religious and civic organizations since the start of the year on a statewide project called Operation Jumpstart the Vote. Volunteers spent the weekend going door-to-door in Wake County to inform voters about election law changes, help them register to vote and obtain valid IDs, Hall said.
“We’re making sure they don’t wind up in a situation where they’re relying on a law that no longer exists.”
The final deadline to register to vote in November’s general election will be Oct. 10.
Staff writer John Frank contributed.