Long lines, confusion over voter ID reported in NC primary

A poll worker at the Durham Main Library directs a voter with his ballot to an open voting space during early afternoon voting the Durham County Main Library precinct Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
A poll worker at the Durham Main Library directs a voter with his ballot to an open voting space during early afternoon voting the Durham County Main Library precinct Tuesday, March 15, 2016. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Long lines forced some voters in Wake and Durham counties to wait three or four hours to vote Tuesday night in the North Carolina primaries.

At a precinct in Raleigh at Pullen Park, where many N.C. State students vote, the university bused students in every 15 minutes, and more than 1,700 people voted there on Tuesday. By 7 p.m., a line of hundreds of people stretched into the parking lot. Polls had been scheduled to close at 7:30 p.m.

“We were voting there until around 11 o’clock last night,” said Nicole Shumaker, Wake County’s deputy elections director. “And the reason for that was the early voting period for this primary coincided exactly with North Carolina State University’s spring break. So all those students were out of town during early voting.”

Democracy NC, a group that advocates for more voter participation, blamed many of the delays statewide on confusion surrounding the state’s new voter ID laws.

Volunteers for the group at the Pullen Park precinct said most of the problems there seemed to involve students who had out-of-state IDs or who weren’t registered to vote in Wake County.

In Durham, voters also had some long rush-hour waits, with some waiting long into the night to vote. Only Mecklenberg County, which reported its final results at 1:34 a.m., took longer than Durham, which finished at 1:22 a.m.

Durham and Mecklenberg were two of nearly a dozen counties statewide that didn’t report final numbers until after midnight. Wake, Johnston and Franklin counties took until after 11 p.m.

But in other places, any delays were minimal.

“We did have a few calls of people waiting as much as 30 or 35 minutes right around 7 (p.m.), but other than that it went pretty well,” said Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections.

Although it has a large population of college students, Orange didn’t face many ID-related issues, Reams said. Voters in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and other places in the county cast 475 provisional ballots.

Reams said no specific numbers were yet available that would show how many of those were cast because of ID-related issues instead of people showing up at the wrong precinct, trying to vote without being registered, or other issues.

Durham officials couldn’t be reached Wednesday for an update on provisional voting. Wake County had about 8,000 provisional ballots.

Wake also had its highest turnout for a presidential primary in years, with 41 percent. Statewide, turnout was about 35 percent — similar to 2012 but slightly lower than 2008, when it was a record 37 percent.

Across the state, volunteers for Democracy NC spoke with people who reported trouble voting. Bob Hall, the group’s executive director, said voter ID laws appear to have been enforced differently throughout the state, that polling workers often appeared untrained or overworked, and that some voters reported they weren’t allowed to cast provisional ballots when a problem arose.

“All the problems from this primary will be far worse in the general election,” Hall said in a news release. His group has been a vocal opponent of the new ID laws.

In Durham, some voters also had trouble finding a precinct on N.C. Central University’s campus. It was moved from the student union to the law school, although the county board of elections didn’t update its website to reflect that until about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Elections Director Michael Perry said Tuesday his staff put up signs to direct voters in person, “but somebody kept taking them down.”

Still, Perry said he thought everyone who went to the union to vote eventually made it to the right place. The private group Election Protection also sent some volunteers to help.

Democracy NC included the problems at NCCU in its roundup Wednesday of long lines, misunderstandings and other complaints across the state.

“We were encouraged that so many people persisted in making sure their voice was heard, but it was painful to hear about voters harmed by the new voting rules and by the same poor polling-place administration that we documented during the 2014 election cycle, often in the same places,” Hall said.

Doran: 919-846-2858; Twitter: @will_doran