Politics & Government

Elections board notifies governor's mansion: Update your voter registration

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and his wife Kristin Cooper greet teachers after addressing their rally on the Bicentennial Mall on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and his wife Kristin Cooper greet teachers after addressing their rally on the Bicentennial Mall on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 in Raleigh, N.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Apparently, living in the Executive Mansion doesn't make it any easier to vote.

Take it from Kristin Cooper, whose husband is Gov. Roy Cooper, and who on Thursday night touted the importance of keeping your voter registration information up to date.

On Facebook, North Carolina's first lady posted about receiving a notification from the Wake County Board of Elections.

"It tells me that despite voting in every election since I was 18, including the one 20 months ago, I will be dropped from the voter rolls if I don't return this postcard," she wrote on Facebook.

"If, like me, you treat snail mail like poison ivy, and are distrustful of sending your information to people you don't know ... TOUGH!" she continued. "I'm sending mine in tomorrow."

The governor received a similar notice.

The first couple may not depend on snail mail, but our election bureaucracy does, and that helps explain the confusion here.

Elections and rules for participating in them have been in the news regularly in recent weeks.

This fall, North Carolinians will decide at the ballot box whether residents should be required to present photo identification in order to vote. State lawmakers also made changes to early voting.

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Critics say the proposals could make it harder for some to vote.

"Governor and Mrs. Cooper believe we should make it easier for eligible North Carolinians to vote and they encourage everyone to stay on top of their registration status," Ford Porter, a Cooper spokesman, said Friday morning.

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Updating your registration

Gary Sims, director of the Wake County Board of Elections, explained the Coopers' situation.

In March, the Wake board sent a notice to both of the Coopers alerting them to a change in the location of their polling place from Wiley Elementary School to St. Mary’s School. That notice was sent to the Coopers' private residence.

The couple had set up a mail forwarding system with the U.S. Postal Service. However, under state law, voter registration card mailings like the one Wake County sent the Coopers can't be forwarded, Sims said.

So elections board staff looked at the forwarding address the Postal Service provided — the Governor's Mansion — and sent a new notice asking the Coopers to confirm their address.

"Once it is returned and we can update her registration, we will be able to get a new updated voter card sent to her with her correct polling place and voting jurisdictions," Sims said.

If the Coopers don't return the notice, they won't be dropped from the voter rolls but will be considered "inactive."

What 'inactive' means and what to do

Inactive voters can still vote and aren't removed from the rolls unless two federal general elections go by and they don't update their status, participate in an election or contact the elections board, Sims said.

It appears as if the Coopers will update their information before the November election. What would happen if they didn't?

"If (an inactive voter) didn't move and she went to her regular polling place, and it's inactive ... basically she'll have to update her address," Sims said.

Now let's say the Coopers want their new address to be the Governor's Mansion, but never updated their address with the elections board.

"She could go to her old voting place, get authorization to vote, and then transfer to the new polling place to vote," Sims said.

Or, "if they showed up at the new polling place and didn't bring (an address change) form, typically in that situation they would vote using a provisional ballot. In that case, we would do that (address) verification for her."

The Coopers "didn't do anything wrong," Sims said. Voters are allowed to have a mailing address and a voting address. But state law doesn't allow registration cards to be forwarded through the mail.

"If you've moved since the last time you voted, don't forget about us," Sims said. "Please update your address with us too."

To see if your registration is active and up-to-date, check your registration information using the state's voter look-up tool: https://vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/

Specht: 919-829-4870 @AndySpecht
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