Politics & Government

Early voting starts Thursday across NC; here’s what you need to know.

Early voting at CPCC

Early voting began Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 17 sites across Mecklenburg County and will continue until Saturday, March 12th. Lunch hour voters came to CPCC's Facilities Services building to cast their primary election ballots. It was the first e
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Early voting began Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 17 sites across Mecklenburg County and will continue until Saturday, March 12th. Lunch hour voters came to CPCC's Facilities Services building to cast their primary election ballots. It was the first e

Congressional districts that no longer exist.

Candidates on the ballot but not in the race.

A photo ID requirement – except when there’s not.

Early voting starts Thursday in one of North Carolina’s most consequential primary elections in years, and one of the most confusing.

Voters can begin casting ballots at 17 sites in Mecklenburg County and 361 around the state. Early voting continues until March 12.

At stake are nominations for president, governor, the U.S. Senate and hundreds of state and local offices. There’s also a $2 billion bond issue that would benefit colleges and universities, parks and infrastructure projects across the state.

Here are some things to remember:

1 Early voting. In Mecklenburg, it starts at 8 a.m. at the Central Piedmont Community College Facilities Center on Seventh Street. At 10 a.m., it starts at 16 other locations, including libraries. Voting at every location ends at 7 p.m.

Early voting will continue weekdays during the same hours. On Saturdays, March 5 and 12, sites are open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. And on Sunday, March 6, all sites are open from 1 to 4 p.m.

Republicans and unaffiliated voters can vote in the GOP primaries; Democrats and unaffiliated voters can vote in the Democratic contests.

2 Voter ID. This will be the first election in which most voters will need photo identification to vote.

There are exceptions. Voters with a “reasonable impediment” to having a photo ID can cast provisional ballots. Impediments can include a lack of proper documents, family obligations or other reason.

To claim an impediment and get a provisional ballot, you’ll need either your birth date and last four digits of your Social Security number, a voter registration card or a document with your name and address, such as a current utility bill or bank statement. Ballots are counted when the information and eligibility are verified.

To learn about the new rules, go to voterid.nc.gov.

3 Congressional races. This is where it gets confusing.

Last month, a panel of federal judges threw out the North Carolina congressional districts used in the two previous elections. Lawmakers reconvened and passed a new, dramatically different map. They set the date for new congressional primaries for June 7.

But the old districts and candidates are still on the ballot. And elections officials want people to vote as if they counted.

Why?

Unlike Mecklenburg, most counties use paper ballots, says elections board attorney Josh Lawson. And those ballots were already printed, just like the absentee ballots that had already been sent out. (In addition, he says, certain procedural protocols would not allow the congressional races to be removed even from touch-screen ballots.)

And officials didn’t want to take a chance that by telling voters not to vote in U.S. House elections, they might not vote in state House or U.S. Senate races. So they’re urging people to cast a congressional vote. They just won’t count it.

4 No runoffs. As part of the bill setting a new date for congressional elections, lawmakers decided there would be no runoff elections this year.

Before, if no candidate got 40 percent of the vote, there would be a second primary. This year, the top vote-getter will win the primary, no matter how many candidates compete. That’s also true in the new June 7 congressional primaries.

Add to that another change: Candidates who win a primary in March could still run in a congressional primary in June. Several legislators are already talking about running for Congress.

5 Presidential races. The Republican field seems to be shrinking by the day. But not in North Carolina.

Voters in the GOP primary will have a dozen candidates to choose from. Among them: candidates who’ve gone by the wayside such as Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore.

March 15, Election Day, could be pivotal for the GOP race. Not only does North Carolina vote, but other large states including Ohio and Florida do. If Donald Trump wins those winner-take-all states, he could be well on his way to amassing the delegates needed for nomination.

At the same time, those states will be critical for the fortunes of their home-state candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

In the Democratic race, North Carolina voters also will find the since-departed Martin O’Malley on the ballot as well as Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente. De La Fuente is a San Diego businessman who petitioned to get on the ballot.

He has rented a house in southwest Charlotte during the campaign.

6 The bonds. Voters also will find the first major statewide bond referendum in 15 years.

The “Connect N.C.” bonds would pay for infrastructure projects in 76 counties. Among the projects: a new $90 million science building at UNC Charlotte.

7 Judges. Dozens of candidates for district judge and Superior Court judge are on the ballot statewide. In races with more than two candidates, the top two go on to meet in November.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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