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Nothing broken with N.C.’s provisional ballot system

From K.L. Young Jr. in response to “No voter fraud in North Carolina? Check provisional ballots” (April 12 For the Record by N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest):

I write to defend the integrity of North Carolina Election Laws in general, and its Provisional Ballot procedures in particular. I write with authority, having served on the Stanly County Board of Elections for six years, currently its chairperson.

Concerning Mr. Forest’s accusation that North Carolina’s “counting of provisional ballots is highly subjective” and his insinuation that the pair of county board members representing the party of the governor accepts or rejects marked provisional ballots on the basis of party affiliation, these characterizations could not be further from reality. In fact, the process is as objective and transparent as can be crafted by our legislators.

North Carolina election laws are specific, detailed, and the election boards’ employees follow the laws diligently. The local professional staff researches the details concerning each provisional ballot and the county director presents the findings and recommendations to the county board. In the 2012 general election to which Mr. Forest referred, there were 559 provisional ballots marked in Stanly County.

Of these provisional ballots, 300 were approved. Of the total provisional ballots marked, more than 97 percent contained issues that were cut and dry, and our county board concurred with the staff’s recommendations. On the other ballots, the three-member County Board reviewed the facts, as presented by the director, and made its decision – approval or denial. No provisional ballot envelope is unsealed until after it is officially approved. Denied provisional envelopes are never opened.

There are many reasons why a person may erroneously think he or she is eligible to vote. One reason is when a voter moves to a new county but fails to transfer his registration there. On a recent occasion, a young adult attempted to vote in Stanly County but was denied that privilege because he previously had transferred his registration to a second North Carolina county where he attended college.

Such situations where a provisional ballot is denied are by no means “proof of voter fraud,” as Mr. Forest would have voters think. Rather, they are proof that our state’s election laws are working properly – providing everyone an opportunity to mark a ballot, while providing election officials the opportunity to carefully and objectively research and evaluate the registration status of any whose name and address do not appear on the precinct voter roll.

During my service on the Stanly County Board of Elections, there have been three Democrat and three Republican members. All of our votes have been unanimous, including all decisions regarding provisional ballots.

From my experience with the implementation of North Carolina’s provisional voting and vote counting procedures, I consider them to operate fairly and without discrimination. Our lieutenant governor would have voters believe that our provisional voting system is rampant with fraud, and that a photo identification card would miraculously improve the system.

There is nothing to be fixed in the current provisional ballot system. The likely result of passage of a voter ID bill would be substantially increased numbers of provisional ballots. Think of the man whose mustache has been shaved, or the woman who has a new hairstyle.

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