In a matter of weeks, thousands of North Carolina voters will head to the polls unaware of what they’ll need to vote – and election officials will be hard-pressed to help them.
Will voters be helped or frustrated at the polls? At this point, it’s up to Gov. Pat McCrory.
The new law cuts out safety-net provisions for new voters and dumps confusing regulations on poll workers. That combination is making it hard for election officials to do their job. The evidence from the 2014 election is disturbing:
▪ Dr. Martha Kropf at UNC-Charlotte analyzed exit surveys from thousands of voters across the state and found that poll officials were not following the simplest of the new rules: Ask each voter, “Do you have one of the photo IDs that will be required to vote in 2016?” Dr. Kropf found that nearly half of the voters were not asked that.
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▪ An analysis by Democracy NC found that at least 30,000 voters were disenfranchised in 2014 because the new law repealed same-day registration during early voting and out-of-precinct voting on Election Day.
▪ A majority of the directors of county boards of elections interviewed by the League of Women Voters and Democracy NC said the experience of 2014 and complexity of the photo ID law made them worry whether they could recruit and/or fully train enough poll workers to handle the problems they expect at the polls this year.
DMV examiners also had trouble uniformly administering the new law. They were supposed to provide free IDs, but qualified voters received different treatment depending on which DMV office they visited. As a result, the General Assembly had to add a complex new procedure called “reasonable impediment exception,” for voters showing up at the polls without an “acceptable” ID.
Whether or not it works depends heavily on poll-worker training and voter education, which are both under-financed and behind schedule. We’re at risk of a major meltdown at the polls in March.
McCrory’s “common sense” requirement for voters to “show ID” has become a dangerous farce. First, our lawmakers made the list of acceptable IDs so strict it threatened to disenfranchise from 100,000 to 300,000 citizens. Then, the “fix” to help those without IDs became so bureaucratic it couldn’t work. Now, the new procedure essentially lets any voter escape the ID requirement if they go through the hassle of filling out forms. We’re back to the original way we protected against fraud – if you lie when you sign-in identifying yourself, it’s a felony.
If poll workers can’t administer this new procedure fairly, the whole law is in serious jeopardy of being ruled unconstitutional.
To protect his claim that the ID law is sensible – and to protect our right to vote – McCrory must release emergency financial support to election officials to:
▪ Educate more voters: Bring your ID, but if you don’t have one, come anyway. Media outlets are mistakenly saying voters must have a photo ID to vote, and coverage of a trial about the ID rules makes everything even more confusing.
▪ Hire and thoroughly train more workers for North Carolina’s 3,000 voting sites. Add greeters to help voters before they wait in line for 45 minutes only to learn they’re at the wrong poll or must go to the help desk for “the right forms.” Add more workers to staff help desks and serve curbside voters.
McCrory and legislative leaders must deliver on their promise that the new election laws will not harm honest voters. Money spent now could save them from embarrassment and save thousands of voters from senseless troubles.
Bob Hall is executive director of Democracy North Carolina, which sponsors a special hotline (888-OUR-VOTE) and website (NCVoter.org) to help voters.