Politics & Government

Uncertainty still clouds North Carolina elections

jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Uncertainty continues to cloud this fall’s elections, with the state planning to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate North Carolina’s voter ID law, and counties deciding whether to extend or shorten early voting.

One group warned Wednesday that the state could be headed for a “train wreck” if counties don’t extend the hours to vote early.

Mecklenburg County’s elections board Chair Mary Potter Summa said it’s unclear whether the board will reduce the number of planned early voting hours. The board is scheduled to vote on a plan Monday.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday that he’ll ask the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that threw out the ID law and with it provisions that barred same-day registration and shortened the early voting period from 17 to 10 days. (The number of actual hours remained the same as during previous elections.)

An administration official said Wednesday the governor hopes to ask Chief Justice John Roberts to stay the lower court order this week.

Last month a three-judge federal panel overturned the sweeping 2013 law, saying it was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.”

But in overturning it, the judges eliminated the requirement that mandated that counties have the same number of early-voting hours as they did in the last presidential race. Now counties have until Aug. 19 to determine how many hours to have early voting.

Heavy early turnout expected

State elections director Kim Strach last week urged counties to “be mindful” of expected November turnout and the popularity of early voting. In a memo to county boards, she said based on past elections, she expects about 56 percent of all voters this fall to vote early.

In Guilford County on Monday night, the Republican-led elections board considered but ultimately put off an early voting plan that could have made casting ballots more difficult for college students and black residents. A rowdy crowd of 300 people packed the meeting to oppose a proposal to cut a dozen early voting sites.

The board ultimately decided to back a compromise plan that kept more early voting sites open.

At a news conference in Raleigh on Wednesday, Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, urged county boards to extend hours. He cited potentially long lines caused by unusually heavy voter interest in a key swing state, growth in the number of voters and the extra time to cast ballots now that people can no longer vote a straight ticket.

“Fortunately, many county boards have good leaders,” Hall said. “They should all recognize the indicators and conditions that point to the need for investing in strong early voting plans with weekend and evening hours that will relieve the stress on Election Day.”

Mecklenburg decision Monday

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump Tuesday addressed the voter ID law at a rally in Wilmington. Without an ID, he said, people might vote multiple times.

“Voter ID. What’s with that?” he said. “Why aren’t we having voter ID? In other words, ‘I want to vote, here’s my identification. I want to vote.’ As opposed to somebody coming up and voting 15 times for Hillary.… You won’t vote 15 times, but people will.”

In Mecklenburg, Summa said she’s not sure what the board will do when it votes Monday at its 5 p.m. meeting.

“I’m not a big fan of early voting, but in this county the reality is we have to have it because we don’t have enough machines to accommodate voters on Election Day,” she said. She added that the number of hours won’t be more than in the 2012 election but could be less.

“I’m not saying that we won’t (have the 2012 hours, but) do we need that many hours to adequately accommodate voters on Election Day?”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

Attorney General and candidate for Governor Roy Cooper talks with reporters about the court decision on the North Carolina Voter ID bill.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory says it's "amazing" that state Attorney General Roy Cooper will not defend the state's voter ID law and "other laws" in court. Cooper is running against McCrory in the November race for governor.

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