Elections officials prep for voter bill changes

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Hanover County elections officials are discussing how to proceed with numerous changes lawmakers have made to the state’s voting process, including a requirement for photo identification at the polls.

“We take our direction from the state board,” New Hanover County Board of Elections Director Marvin McFadyen said Monday, Aug. 5. “We’re in holding just like everyone else as far as knowing what the next steps might be.”

State lawmakers passed House Bill 589 in July, with all supporting House and Senate votes from Republicans and all opposing votes from Democrats.

The bill was still awaiting the governor’s signature as of press time. When that signing might occur was still being determined, Gov. Pat McCrory’s deputy communications director Ryan Tronovitch said Aug. 5. 

The omnibus bill has about 60 parts, including the photo ID requirement that takes effect in 2016. Exceptions include registered voters who filed a declaration of religious objections to being photographed and those lacking photo ID because of a recent natural disaster.

“There’s really plenty of time for people to get an acceptable form of ID,” said Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, a primary sponsor of the bill. He noted the photo ID requirement relates to in-person voting, not absentee voting. 

The bill has sparked criticism from groups including the NAACP, Advancement Project and Forward Together about measures to require strict photo identification, eliminate same-day registration, cut a week of early voting days and eliminate pre-registration for 16-year-olds.

The Advancement Project, in a July news release, had called the bill, “the most restrictive and discriminatory voting bill this nation has seen in decades.” 

Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee have strict photo voter ID requirements, and eight more states have passed strict photo voter ID legislation but the laws have not yet been implemented due to future effective dates or legal challenges, the National Conference of State Legislatures has stated. 

Besides the four states with strict photo ID laws, seven currently have non-strict photo ID laws, 19 have non-photo ID laws and 21 have no voter ID laws, including North Carolina and Washington, D.C. North Carolina’s bill would place it in the strict photo ID category.

A February 2013 Elon University poll showed that about 72 percent of North Carolinians support photo IDs for voting. Broken down by party, those photo ID support figures were 52 percent for Democrats, 74 percent for Independents and 93 percent for Republicans.

Warren, who had sponsored an earlier Voter Information Verification Act version of the bill that grew as more election reform bills were added to it, said he disagreed with some parts of the final bill, including eliminating pre-registration for 16-year-olds.

“I’m not sure that was a great idea to eliminate that. I’m not sure what the mentality was behind that,” Warren said. “Being able to engage our youth in the electoral process and get them civic-minded while they’re still in high school I think is a great thing to do.”

Seventeen-year-olds may still register if they will be 18 by Election Day.

Warren said he still voted for the bill because he supported most of it, including a provision to cut straight party voting options.

“It can be detrimental for either party,” Warren said of the option that has allowed voters to cast one vote for a party’s nominees in multiple offices.

State Board of Elections officials were reviewing the bill and considering temporary rules for multi-partisan teams to help hospital patients and nursing or rest home residents cast absentee ballots, said the board’s executive director, Kim Westbrook Strach.

Among the bill’s earlier effective dates is an October 2013 timeframe for education and publicity provisions to offer registration at additional agencies such as county senior centers or parks and recreation services.

New Hanover County already provides such services at most agencies, including town halls, libraries and school counselor offices, McFadyen said. 

“It’s just taking it a step further,” McFadyen said.

Elections officials also must determine how to address the reduction of a week of early voting days starting in 2014. Counties still must provide the same amount of early voting hours, however, and so New Hanover County may provide more early voting sites to offer the same amount of hours in fewer days, McFadyen said.

The bill requires more sites be open during the 10-day period, which could mean coverage of a wider geographic area, Warren said.

“That has to be more conducive to encouraging early voting than having … several sites staggered over a three-week period,” Warren said. 

email michelle@luminanews.com

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