Tuesday’s primary vote will test NC’s new election laws

As North Carolinians go to the polls in today’s primary, they’ll encounter an issue not on the ballot – new rules about voting. A verdict on those changes won’t show up in the evening vote tallies, but voters nonetheless will form opinions they may express in the general election.

The biggest change is that all voters must present a valid photo ID. That hasn’t been a significant problem during early voting. In Wake County, for instance, some 56,000 of the county’s 657,065 registered voters cast their ballots early, and only 77 lacked a valid ID, according to Gary Sims, director of the Wake County elections board. Of those, 39 filed a claim that they had a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a valid photo ID, and 38 said they forgot their photo ID. All 77 were able to cast provisional ballots that will be counted after certification of their identity.

What’s lost in these numbers is how many voters decided not to vote for lack of an ID. And there’s the issue of why thousands of voters – including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, who lost his ID – have to jump through the ID hoops when there’s virtually no evidence of people voting as someone else (an action that was already a felony when the ID requirement was passed).

Today’s Election Day turnout will provide a stronger test of whether the ID requirement and other changes will slow or disrupt voting. With the primary moved up from May to March, the election has gained importance in the presidential race for Republicans and Democrats and independents who can choose to vote in either party’s primary. Those higher stakes – and a series of recent visits from presidential contenders – are expected to produce a heavy turnout.

Republicans may have prevented bottlenecks and more disputes at the polls by amending the new voting rules last June to allow for the casting of provisional ballots for those without IDs. That change was made to help the law survive a pending court challenge, but it adds to the confusion about the ID requirement and what options voters have.

Other changes beyond the ID requirement are not as visible. A reduction in early voting days with the last day on Saturday meant many African-American churches were not able to run their “souls to the polls” drives on the Sunday before the election.

Some young people may not have voted because of the end of preregistration that added teenagers to the rolls when they turned 18. And the elimination of same-day registration cut off other potential voters.

Republicans justified the changes in the name of preventing voter fraud and saving costs, but there’s no evidence that either was an issue.