North Carolina voters from the same county can challenge each others’ right to vote in polling places freely this year, as part of new voting procedures passed by the General Assembly last year.
The ability to challenge another voter from across the county is one of several new rules governing voting that political groups predict will change who comes to the polls and whose votes will be counted in Tuesday’s elections.
Democrats and some left-leaning groups are gearing up for what they believe will be a confusing election for voters because of the new voting requirements. Advocacy groups say new restrictions, like those on where voters can cast ballots, the announcement of future photo ID requirements and getting rid of same-day registration and straight-ticket voting, could make the process more difficult for some voters.
The Wake County Republican Party will have trained observers watching the voting process to ensure that everything follows the rules. GOP party chair Donna Williams said observers won’t be on hand to keep an eye on official poll workers, but to watch for any other organizations that may disrupt the voting process.
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“I’m sure there’s going to be something that happens,” she said. “You can’t control what happens in 200 precincts, but I’m confident the judges who are inside are well-trained. They know what’s allowed. I’m just confident that people are going to do their job.”
Williams said the Wake County Republican Party mailed voter guides and knocked on about 140,000 doors to get information out, but there was no big focus on changes voters might see at the polls.
Officially, nonpartisan groups that align more closely with the Republicans say they are taking a more hands-off approach, providing general voting information in the past weeks.
Donald Bryson, president of Americans for Prosperity North Carolina, said the changes and controversy surrounding voter requirements aren’t something the national conservative group has chosen to highlight or discuss.
“It’s just not an issue we’re talking about,” he said. “We’re focusing on health care, government spending, that kind of thing. We’re not election experts.”
Instead of going out to polls, Bryson said the organization has focused on going door-to-door to remind people to vote.
Dems prepare for negative effects
AFP came under fire in early October for mailing voter applications with inaccurate voting information and incorrect information about voters. The applications found their way to the addresses of deceased voters and people not eligible to register.
Officials of the group said the incorrect voter applications resulted from an administrative error.
The North Carolina Democratic Party said the incident amounted to voter suppression and filed a complaint with the state elections board. But many Democratic groups maintain the action was not sufficient to ensure that suppression won’t continue at the polls.
The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a nonprofit that works on voter rights and other issues, has created a mobile-phone application for volunteers to report and map any problems they see at the polls. Attorneys with the group can examine the information for any geographic patterns and deal with them quickly. The software also allows voters to make sure their problems are being addressed, said creator Sarah Moncelle.
Voters can use hotlines to report problems at the polls, but they don’t always get feedback on what happens once the problems are reported, she said.
“This information has always been important, and in every election, voters’ rights should be important,” Moncelle said. “This election is important because we’re seeing the early effects of new voter laws.”
Donita Judge, senior attorney with Washington D.C.-based organization The Advancement Project, said they’ve already heard reports of problems in early voting in North Carolina.
Lines have been long because there is no more straight ticket voting, intimidation is easy now that voters can be challenged from outside their precinct and the “soft rollout” of the photo ID component is causing confusion, Judge said.
“We don’t believe it will make it easier,” Judge said of the new requirements. “Voters were well-informed before, and now voters are confused.”
The Advancement Project, which focuses on empowering groups like African-Americans, Latinos and students, will be out at polls to assist and also have volunteers that staff an Election Day hotline to help voters who may encounter problems.