Durham News: Opinion

Kate Fellman: Help us make sure all can vote

Expect to vote in the presidential election this year? Better make sure you can!

In 2013 the N.C. legislature enacted House Bill 589 which makes voting more difficult by

▪ reducing the early voting period a week,

▪ eliminating the opportunity to register and vote on the same day during early voting,

▪ eliminating provisional ballots that allowed voting outside assigned precincts, and

▪ requiring a state-issued photo ID to vote in elections beginning in 2016.

Legislators supporting House 589 claimed it was needed to prevent voter fraud, but they were unable to provide any evidence of significant voter fraud in North Carolina. In 2014 legislators “softened” the ID requirement so that it would hold up in federal court where the new law was immediately challenged.

There is now a “reasonable impediment” waiver: voters who are unable to procure state-approved photo ID can sign an affidavit saying they were unable to get one. This mandatory photo ID now has a work around, however communication of this and all other changes to voting by the State Board of Elections has been weak at best. The federal lawsuit challenging the photo ID requirement, brought by the U.S. Justice Department, will be heard on Monday.

After passage of HB 589 in 2013, analysts examined the changes to see whom they would impact. They concluded that House 589 was designed to make voting more difficult for

▪ People who find it difficult to take off work to vote,

▪ People without easy access to transportation to and from the polls,

▪ People who don’t have a state-issued photo ID and would find it hard to get one, and

▪ People without current information about changes to polling locations, hours and days.

Who are those people?

▪ People in low-wage jobs

▪ Seniors

▪ People with disabilities

▪ People of color

▪ College students

Did the law work? Like a charm. To take but one example: Look what happened in Durham on Election Day in 2014: People waiting in line to vote after work found out they were in the wrong polling place and could no longer use a provisional ballot to vote in countywide and statewide races. Too late to get another polling place, or without a ride there, they were shut out. Hundreds of voters, mostly at polling locations in low-income neighborhoods, denied the right to vote.

Voting begins for the March 15 primary on March 3 using the rules as they currently stand. You Can Vote is a voluntary coalition in Durham, Orange and Wake counties, working with other non-partisan voting and election organizations such as Democracy NC to ensure voters can cast their ballots successfully. You Can Vote helps people register to vote, explains photo ID requirements and how to vote with or without photo ID, and educates voters on when and where they can vote. Our volunteers will follow up with voters at risk of disenfranchisement to get them to the polls in 2016. I invite you to join our coalition to make voter education available everywhere within our community. If churches, schools, community centers, civic groups and businesses join forces, we can make sure no voter loses their most important right, the right to vote.

We aim to register 5,000 people in the Triangle this year and educate thousands more. You’ll see us out there, with our volunteers wearing bright orange YOU CAN VOTE T-shirts. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Better yet, sign up for our 2016 Durham launch at 10 a.m. Jan. 23 at First Presbyterian Church on Roxboro Street . We’ll teach you the ropes, then pair you with an experienced volunteer. You’ll talk with people grateful for straightforward information on voting after all the confusion and dismay about the new law. And you’ll get a free scoop from our partners in voting, Ben & Jerry’s!

Can’t make it to the Durham launch? Come to the training at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Chapel Hill Public Library. Sign up for our trainings and events on youcanvote.org.

Kate Fellman is the program director of the People’s Alliance Fund.

Can’t make Durham launch?

Come to the training at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Chapel Hill Public Library off Estes Drive. Sign up for our trainings and events on youcanvote.org.