Now that we’ve finished the primary election season in North Carolina, it’s important to highlight a few takeaways that promise to play out in a big way in November.
First, the good news: Thanks to a court ruling that paused some voting changes adopted in 2013, same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting were still available this election. These important voter “safety nets” made it possible for over 29,000 North Carolinians to vote and have their voices heard in the presidential primary in March.
That’s a hefty number of voters saved in one low-turnout election, especially compared with the tiny number of alleged cases of fraud used to justify eliminating these features.
By allowing people to register during early voting, same-day registration rescues voters who would be silenced, in many cases through no fault of their own. These are often voters who believe they registered at the Division of Motor Vehicles, but their registrations were never recorded. Same-day registration helps citizens of all ages, races and parties; it’s particularly used by lower-income and younger voters who tend to move more frequently. In March alone, same-day registration saved 22,800 voters – and 55 percent were under age 30.
Out-of-precinct voting helps voters who go to the wrong polling place in their county on Election Day due to time constraints, incorrect information or other reasons. Often out-of-precinct voting occurs at a polling place near a voter’s work, school or daycare – a voting site that’s most convenient on a busy Tuesday. More than 6,300 votes were saved in March thanks to out-of-precinct voting.
In 2014, Democracy North Carolina identified thousands of legal voters whose voices were silenced due to the elimination of SDR and OOP by the General Assembly. But, because a court order temporarily restored those two options, a total of 29,000 voters were saved in March.
Now for an unhappy takeaway from the March primary: The state’s new photo ID requirement resulted in 1,400 ballots being rejected. They were cast by voters who either did not have an acceptable ID with them or who don’t own an acceptable photo ID and were not offered an alternative way to vote as required by law.
22,800 The number of North Carolinians who registered and voted the same day in the March primary
55 The percentage of those who were under age 30
6,300 The number of North Carolinians who voted out of their precinct in March
1,400 The number of ballots rejected in North Carolina in March due to missing or improper photo ID
The failure of poll workers to provide voters with the correct information and forms should be troubling to all North Carolinians. After all, voters rely on poll workers on the front lines of our elections system to know the rules and consistently apply them, regardless of where we live.
But the evidence of poor training went further. In dozens of cases, county election officials incorrectly rejected legitimate explanations on the “reasonable impediment” forms – the so-called “safety net” for those without ID – or made other errors that disenfranchised voters.
The State Board of Elections found so many problems with wrongly rejected ballots that it ordered a re-canvass in 20 counties. It took two months to sort through the maze of mistakes, largely because the ID law has made our election system far more complex and vulnerable to human error.
Comparing the number of votes saved by same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting to the number lost due to lack of ID reveals another important lesson: Though you’d never know it from the headlines, the repeal of SDR and OOP would disenfranchise tens of thousands more voters than the new ID requirement.
In fact, more than 100,000 votes will be lost in November if same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting are repealed, based on their use in past presidential elections.
For good reason, judges on the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals continue to block the repeal of these key provisions until they thoroughly review a lower court ruling that upheld the state’s voter suppression law. The judges convene June 21 to hear arguments for and against the law. Their decision will determine the fate of tens of thousands of North Carolina voters who could be saved by SDR and OOP or silenced by a confusing ID requirement that defies common sense.
Isela Gutierrez is associate research director of Democracy North Carolina.