Local News
9:11 am
Thu August 1, 2013

NC Explainer: Voting Rights

Credit stu_spivak / Flickr

Big changes are coming to North Carolina's election laws. That's what we're focusing on this morning as part of our week-long look at some of the major bills state lawmakers passed this session.

Election experts say North Carolina passed some of the most sweeping voting changes in the country. It's a huge shift from our current election laws, from how many days you'll have to vote, to what you need to bring to cast a ballot to even how you can register. But let's start with when you can vote.

Seven Fewer Days Of Early Voting

The legislation cuts early voting by a week. Now it'll start later and last a maximum of 10 days. And here's some perspective for you – in that first week of early voting in the 2012 elections, more than 900,000 North Carolinians voted, according to data from the state Board of Elections.

That's about one-fifth of the ballots cast in the entire election. And again, we're talking just that first week of early voting, which this legislation gets rid of. 

Michael Dickerson is the director of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections. He says any way you look at it, early voting is hugely popular. 

"I had more people vote early in the 2012 presidential election than I did in the 2000 election – early and election day," Dickerson said. "So voters actually enjoy it, the early voting, they like the process."

And Dickerson says it makes Election Day easier because lines are smaller.

The legislation does require counties to still offer the same total number of hours of early voting. They'll just have seven fewer days to work with. Dickerson says in Mecklenburg County, that may mean adding about six voting sites and staying open for an extra three hours or so each day. 

Same-Day Registration And Young Voters

Voters will no longer be able to register and vote on the same day. North Carolinians have been able to do that since 2007 during early voting. But the legislation repeals it. Now everyone will have to register at least 25 days before the next election.

Martha Kropf is a political science professor at UNC Charlotte, and she researches voter turnout and elections. She says getting rid of same-day registration could have a big impact on young voters.

"It's become a very popular method of mobilizing young people especially to vote, and young African Americans in particular," Kropf said.

She says there are two other changes that could also have a large effect on young voters. The legislation eliminates a high school program that registers thousands of students to vote each year. And with the new photo ID requirement, college IDs won't count.

New Photo ID Requirement

The photo ID requirement has been the subject of a lot of controversy in North Carolina and other states that passed it, like South Carolina.

Basically, the one that passed here means you'll need some type of government-issued ID to vote. That can be a driver's license, a passport, a military ID or some other kind of card from the DMV. If you’re in a Native American tribe that’s federally recognized, you can also use your tribal enrollment card.

At a press conference last week, Governor McCrory said he'll sign the legislation.

"I think it makes common sense to show an ID to vote, just like you have to show an ID to get government services, you have to show an ID to get Sudafed," McCrory said. "You have to show an ID to get into the White House and, in fact, to get into this governor's mansion."

Concerns Over Voter ID

Advocates for the poor and minorities say it has a disproportionately large impact on the people they look out for. The state chapter of the NAACP, for example, calls the legislation the most comprehensive attack on the right to vote since Jim Crow laws.

The state board of elections tried to figure out exactly how many North Carolinians don't have an ID. The board cross-referenced DMV records with voter registration data, and it found about 9 percent of registered voters may not have any sort of government ID. In total numbers, we're talking more than 600,00 people more than 300,000 people may not have any sort of government ID. (Correction: The state board of elections released a study in January estimating the number to be above 600,000, but then it updated that study using more matching criteria in April and found the lower number.) 

However many people don't have IDs, they'll have a few years to get one. That requirement doesn't kick in until the next presidential election in 2016.  And either the state or counties will likely cover the cost of those IDs. If you don't have one and you're just getting it to vote, you should be eligible to get that free of charge. Or you could vote by mail. The legislation doesn't say you need an ID to do that.

Voting Machines, Campaign Finance And (Potentially) Court Challenges

The changes are staggered over the next few years, so voters probably won't notice anything in the upcoming September and November elections. But later on, they'll notice they can no longer do a straight-party ticket. That's voting for all the Republicans or Democrats with one button. And voting machines will be changing. By 2018, they'll be required to print an official ballot. None of the current machines can do that. And if that doesn't change, you'll have to fill out your ballot by hand.

The legislation also changes some campaign finance rules. If you want to donate to a campaign, you could give a thousand dollars more now ($5,000 total). Also, it may be tougher to figure out who's behind a campaign ad because what you have to disclose gets watered down. 

And we've hinted at this already, but longer lines are probably a safe bet. After all, there were long lines for early voting last election – before the cuts. Some election experts also say that checking photo IDs could slow the process down. Plan to wait longer than you're used to. But on election day, as long as you're in line by the time the polls close at 7:30 p.m., you'll get to vote.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that some of these changes may get challenged in court by the U.S. Justice Department or some advocacy groups. 

The Justice Department is planning to challenge a similar voter ID law in Texas. Attorney General Eric Holder has said he may pursue legal challenges in other states that were affected by a recent Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act. North Carolina was one of them.