Durham News: Opinion

No conspiracy in Durham County provisional ballot mishandling

For the past nine years (the last three as a judge) I have served as a precinct official for the Durham County Board of Elections.

I am not surprised the North Carolina and Durham County chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently requested that the N.C. Board of Elections authorize a new primary because of inappropriate provisional ballot handling.

Both the current political atmosphere, especially the encouragement of hate by Donald Trump’s grassroots supporters, and several deaths of African-American men caused by law enforcement officers would be reasons for this request. However, the claims the ballot mishandling was – to use words reportedly contained in the letter “race based” and that a “white majority slate (for the Durham County Board of Commissioners) was being promoted which included camouflage Black candidate to make the takeover less obvious” – are not true.

Provisional ballots are offered as an option to voters if a person’s name is not found on a county’s voter registration list or a voter chooses to cast his or her ballot outside the precinct in which he or she lives. Current state law requires voters to cast their ballots in the precinct where they live.

It is the voter’s responsibility to notify the county board of elections of a change in permanent address if a move has occurred 31 days or longer before an election. If a voter does not notify the board of an address change and appears to vote on election day one of three actions is possible: a same precinct change of address, an election day referral or transfer to the correct precinct or the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot.

Voters without an acceptable photo identification are given an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot and must complete a reasonable impediment declaration form stating the reason why no photo ID is available. As most people are aware the current voting laws, including the photo ID requirement, are before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

I cannot emphasize enough (and neither can the North Carolina and county boards of election) that it’s a voter’s responsibility to notify the appropriate county election board of a change of address. Notification can be given by completing a new registration form before the deadline for each election or during early one-stop voting. Failure to notify a county election board results in the vast majority of provisional ballots.

Voters without the currently required photo ID have the option under state law to obtain an identification card from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. I strongly recommend voters without a DMV ID card learn what documents are necessary to acquire one and apply.

In Durham County’s case, the elections staff has put a great emphasis on provisional voting procedures as I can attest, having attended a training session held before the June 7 special primary election.

Regarding the NAACP’s contention there was a conscious effort to elect a white majority county board of commissioners I contend Heidi Carter, Wendy Jacobs and Ellen Reckhow had better organized campaigns in which race was certainly not involved and stronger backing from a grassroots supporters than outgoing Chairman Michael Page and Fred Foster.

I’ve never met Heidi Carter, but I do know Wendy Jacobs, who is a member of my synagogue and whose husband is my primary care physician, and Ellen Reckhow, who also is Jewish and active in the League of Women Voters. I am certain Jacobs and Reckhow champion social justice and therefore equal opportunity and civil rights which Judaism advocated before the civil rights movement was well organized. As chairman of the Durham County Board of Education I would hope Carter would be an advocate for ALL children.

Mark G Rodin lives in Durham.

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