The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

August 16, 2013

Court to decide fate of election changes


CNHI

Thursday, August 15, 2013 — Changes may soon be coming to the statewide voting process after Gov. Pat McCrory signed the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) into law Monday. The act, however, is now being contested in U.S. District Court.

McCrory signed House Bill 589, commonly referred to as Voter Photo ID, Aug. 12, claiming that the new law will “ensure integrity” and “greater equality” during elections.

“I am proud to sign this legislation into law. Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID, and we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote,” McCrory said in a statement.

Several civil rights groups have filed lawsuits contesting VIVA, including the NAACP and the Advancement Project, who filed on behalf of African American voters.

The lawsuit seeks relief under Section 2 of the Voting Right Act, which bans voting procedures that discriminate based on race.

“Governor McCrory has transformed North Carolina from a state with one of the nation’s most progressive voting systems, where we saw some of the highest voter turnout rates of the last two presidential elections, into a state with the most draconian policies we’ve seen in decades, policies that harken to the days of Jim Crow,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the League of Women Voters, A. Philip Randolph Institute, Common Cause North Carolina and the Unifour Onestop Collaborative filed an additional lawsuit contesting several sections of the law.

VIVA will require all voters to present one of six forms of identification before being allowed to vote, including a driver’s license, a special identification card, a passport, a military ID, a veterans ID or a tribal enrollment card.

A special provision in the law gives voters over the age of 70 to use any form of photo identification that was not expired by their 70th birthday. The identification changes will not take effect, though, until Jan. 1, 2016.

Rep. Justin Burr, R-67, who voted in favor of the legislation, said he believes the identification requirement for voting is a win for North Carolina.

“Requiring photo ID to vote is a huge advantage with this legislation and I, for one, am happy to see it pass. It will help to restore the public’s confidence in the electoral process,” Burr said.

Sen. Gene McLaurin, D-25, voted against the bill despite being in favor of photo identification for voting.

“I support photo IDs, but the bill turned into 49 pages of changes, many of which were not needed. If this bill was straight up and down about voter ID, I would’ve voted for it. But it didn’t do that,” McLaurin said.

Among the additional changes McLaurin referenced are:

Kim Wilson, Stanly County elections director, said the most significant change becoming effective this year is the elimination of early registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“Voters must be at least 18 or turn 18 before the General Election to be eligible to register,” Wilson said, adding that previously the law allowed for 16-year-olds to pre-register even if they would not be 18 by the next election.

“We saw our largest pre-registrations through the DMV. A lot of times you have a 16-year-old going to get their drivers’ license and they sign up to pre-register,” Wilson said.

The new law does not affect the status of anyone who had pre-registered prior to Monday. Currently there are 363 pre-registrations pending in the county, according to Wilson.

“Their registrations will be processed as normal, but beginning Sept. 1, we will not accept any new pre-registrations,” Wilson said.

Also beginning this year, forms will be made available through area funeral homes for relatives of deceased voters to complete and submit to their local board of elections office.

“This is a completely new thing the state has implemented, though it won’t become effective until Oct. 1,” Wilson said.

Several of the other major changes made in the act will not become effective until Jan. 1, 2014. These include the shortening of the early voting period from 12-1/2 days to 7-1/2 days, as well as the elimination of same day registration.

“Voters will still be able to change their address at one-stop voting, but there are more restrictions. The voter registration deadline will be the actual deadline now,” Wilson said.

Another major change being made in 2014, according to Wilson, is the decision to not count provisional ballots that are cast outside of a voter’s precinct.

Under the current law, voters could cast a provisional ballot outside of their precinct, and the ballot will be counted.

“Now if a voter comes to vote outside of their precinct, we will have to transfer them to the correct precinct,” Wilson said, adding that it is important for voters to make sure their registration information is up-to-date.

To make registering easier, the state has added to the number of locations that will have voter registration applications available. Currently eligible voters can register at the county board of elections office, the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles and any public libraries. The new law adds senior centers and parks and recreation offices to these locations.

The elimination of straight party voting is also set to become effective in 2014.

Under the current provisions, voters had the option to vote for a party except for president and vice president, but the new law does away with this provision.

According to Wilson, more than 40 percent of the ballots cast in Stanly County for the 2012 Presidential Election were straight party, with 12,614 of the 28,939 ballots being cast for a party affiliation.